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The Better Hubby Contest

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 01, 2013

From the Relief Society Magazine, November 1920 –

The Better Hubby Contest

by Ruth Moench Bell

It was Aurelia Barnes that suggested it. And of all the suppressed excitement the women of Ridgely ever felt, this was the most suppressed and the most exciting. And yet it seemed such an innocent suggestion.

We had just had a better baby contest. And the idea of a better hubby contest pleased us at once. There were so many ways in which a hubby might be bettered. As a unique feature of the bazaar and a means of furnishing fun and getting money, it struck us as being the most original idea we had heard for a long time.

Original it certainly was! It originated more trouble for the wives of Ridgely than they had ever dreamed of. You see, as I said, we all thought at once of the many ways in which said hubby might be bettered and it never occurred to any of us that of all the complacent self-satisfied creatures in the world a hubby is the most complacent and the most self-satisfied.

You know how hubbies are! There isn’t one of them but feels that he is perfectly all right just as he is. If there is any improving to be done he always expects you to do it and do it on yourself. And you can do as much as you please of it on yourself but under no circumstances are you to bother him with it.

Aurelia Barnes was the only “single handed maiden lady,” as the southerners say, in Ridgely, and being bright and witty and good humored, she amused herself considerably with “before and after marriage” portraits of the men of Ridgely. For that very reason we ought to have suspected her of having some fun at our expense. No doubt she was laughing up her sleeve the whole time at the way we “fell for it,” as my Bobbie says.

You see, we all imagined a committee taking the hubbies in hand and bettering them according to our notions of what a good hubby was like. I don’t know why none of us remembered that better babies meant better mothers and better methods. After we got started it soon dawned on us that if there were to be any better hubbies they would have to be bettered by better wives and better methods.

Well, each woman entered her man’s name in the contest which was to be kept a strict secret from every one till the night when each woman must lure to the bazaar and decoy to the platform her particular hubby. Whereupon he was to be exhibited, tested and passed on. Then to further the cause and furnish more amusement he was to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

It was to be no end of fun and we all hurried home and furtively fished out our wedding pictures to see how much “he” had improved under our care. And then is when most of us got the surprise of our lives.

Carrie Hall says that when she got home that evening and looked at the carefree photo of Dan as he looked when she married him and then playfully stole up behind him as he was shaving before the mirror that evening, she almost collapsed. And if Carrie had collapsed she would have certainly gone through into the basement. Carrie has always believed in taking right good care of herself and must weigh pretty close to two hundred, while Dan – well, Dan is thin, old and haggard, and he looks nearer seventy and is almost transparent.

Carrie says she took one look and then she caught up a shawl and hurried over to Aurelia’s as fast as she could wobble. “Thank goodness there are three months before that silly bazaar,” she kept saying over and over to herself.

“What shall I do, Aurelia?” she panted. “It is lucky I don’t have to stand up on the platform beside him. Do you suppose there will be any chance of kind of hiding him behind the others? I don’t want folks to think I’ve starved him.”

“You’ve fed him up all right,” Aurelia assured her. Carrie is an excellent cook and everybody knew that Dan got his three square meals every day.

“What shall I do, then?” poor Carrie wailed.

“Sell the car and stop that expense and clear part of the mortgage off your home.”

“Goodness, do you suppose it’s that?” Carrie gasped.

“Like as not. I’ve noticed Dan’s looking kind of peaked ever since you mortgaged your home to get that car. And then you know the expense it’s been, fifty dollars here and twenty there and dollars and dollars for gasoline. And then you know what that great financier said: ‘No one with an income of less than five thousand a year ought to try to keep a car.’”

“Gracious, we’d have a hard time to figure more than fifteen hundred a year for us.”

“And then the children are growing up and requiring more money for clothes and things, so I guess Dan’s wondering how he ever will get that mortgage paid off. That’s probably the whole thing; for you’ve been a mighty good wife every other way, saving and economizing.”

“Dan was offered seven hundred for it the other day. But it seems so little and we’ve only used it a year.”

“Take it and slap it on that mortgage right away’s my advice. Dan will probably perk up at once.”

“But that will leave eight hundred. We mortgaged for fifteen to get it.”

“Getting rid of the car will help more than seven hundred. It will cut off a lot of expense and you can scrimp along and show him you are saving a certain sum every month to clap onto the rest. Nothing worries a man like a mortgage on his home and so many expenses that he can see no way of clearing it off and middle age coming on and the children growing up.”

Carrie sold her car and took to walking every day and mopping the floor on her hands and knees and doing everything she could to reduce her extra fat and at the same time trying to keep Dan rested and free from care. And he certainly looked better.

I suppose every one of us must have slipped over to Aurelia’s before the week was over. You never saw so many changes as happened in Ridgely in less than two weeks.

The Clarks’ washer ceased to rouse the neighbors every Monday at half past four in the morning. And Hyrum’s law practice began to look up. Heretofore, nobody dared to give him a case. He seemed so done up on Monday’s after doing the washing out before going to the office and frequently not getting time for breakfast. And then Fan used to bring the children up and dump them on him if she was going out to a card party and they couldn’t find any one to look after them.

Elizabeth Hanly, after talking with Aurelia, I suspect, decided that maybe she’d better do the getting up in the night for the children since she could take a nap in the day time and Hal couldn’t.

The Mitchels weren’t seen half so often at picture shows and she quit dragging him around to all the dances and parties. He did not look half so sleepy around the store and Aurelia says he got a raise before the month was over.

It really must have been amusing to see us studying our men and catering to their comfort and coaxing the smiles and rested look back into their faces. Cook books were banished and we began consulting the children’s health cards. Things that were good for the kiddies ought to be good for their papas. So we fed them and petted them and incidentally fell in love all over again with them. And new clothes! I don’t suppose as much as one “clo” was thought of in all those three months, though some of us came out rather smartly afterwards, sheerly as a reward of merit after the men found it out.

For we did keep it a secret. There wasn’t one of us thought of telling “him.” You know how hard it is to get some of the men to those things. As George Ade says, they come “pulling on their halters and with their ears laid back.” But after this one they vowed they’d never drag their feet again when a bazaar was mentioned.

There they were on the platform a jollier, finer looking set of men than the town had ever known. And there we were below beaming up at them as much as to say: “We did it! Don’t they look like better hubbies?”

Aurelia was chosen to touch off their fine points and do the judging. And she showed herself such an adept at judging a hubby that the only widower in the house proposed to her that very night or soon after. Anyhow, they were married before spring.

And then she auctioned them off to the highest bidder. And you should have seen us there bidding three square meals a day, more evenings at home and happy ones, no coaxing for needless finery, fireside friends instead of formal parties, carry our end of the load without a murmur, smiles and loving caresses, no tales and complaints. We certainly bid high to get them back again. Because even if they do think they are all right just as they are we’d agree with them anytime rather than lose them.

None of them got very “uppity” about it, either. And someone proposed a better wife contest right away. Though I’ll bet not one of them could guess what to do to make us – I don’t like “better” when applied to us so I’ll say “happier.” If we have one I suppose the whole crowd of them will go tramping over to Aurelia’s to find out what to do to make us happier. Men are so funny!

On the whole I think it would be a good idea to have one. Aurelia is so frank, a good talk with her would do them all good. Take Tim Hanly, for instance, if he’d take one look at his wife as she was when he married her, a cute, little, black-eyed creature, dancing with joy and bubbling over with happiness, and then take one real look at her as she is now so cowed and humiliated and brow-beaten, he’d get over to Aurelia’s as fast as he could to find out what on earth he had done to her to make her look like that.

And Aurelia’d tell him. She is just that kind, but she’d tell him in such a nice way that he wouldn’t get angry a bit; but he certainly would go home and divide his income with her or put the household on the budget system so she could have a dollar of her own now and then without begging or working him for it.

I know Tim would feel terrible if he had any idea his wife had changed so. He is so proud of his horses and house and farm and he married Sally because she was the prettiest girl in town. And now she runs and hides when the Relief Society teachers call on her because she never has even a quarter to give them. And every one of us know of some humiliation she has been through because of her penniless condition.

Of course, I suppose it is Sally’s fault somehow. She ought not to allow him to go on that way. But some of them are pretty set when it comes to money. Harriet Allen says she can’t get her husband to make the home an allowance or run on the budget system. And she doesn’t dare to let him give her a check. If he does, no matter how little it is, he is grouchy for several days after and then when the first of the month comes and with it the bank statement, he sits and gazes at that particular check and makes all kinds of remarks about it till he is sure he has impressed her with the generosity of her husband and even then he keeps interest centered on that check till she explains the thousand and one uses to which she put it.

Harriet says, now she insists on cash. Then he forgets all about it in a few days and then she can show him her dire need for more. In this way she manages to run the home and save for the rainy day which he never believes in.

Most of their faults are mere peccadilloes. Sam Hansen has a funny one. His wife says no matter how tired or sick she is she never dares to say so much as one cross word. If she ever does Sam flies out of the house in a rage. He is so terribly abused. It is splendid discipline for Lottie. She says as soon as she found out he was that way she kept a watch on herself and when she found she was approaching the breaking point she would take time to make herself look as nice as possible and then go and lie down. And when he came in he would be as sympathetic and good to her and wait on her instead of expecting her to wait on him when she was too ill to be about.

If we do have a better wife contest we women will have to go over to Aurelia’s, after the men have got their advice, and find out what she recommended them to do so we can help them to do it, or think they are doing it, so we can look happy and rested and young for the contest.



5 Comments »

  1. What a strange story, but an interesting look into 1920s family life.

    Comment by Amy T — November 1, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

  2. Dr. Laura’s mentor?

    Comment by Carol — November 1, 2013 @ 10:50 pm

  3. Let a woman in your life and your serenity is through,
    She’ll redecorate your home, from the cellar to the dome,
    And then go on to the enthralling fun of overhauling you.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 2, 2013 @ 8:23 am

  4. An interesting look into the lives and especially financial issues of men and women. Honestly, I prefer today’s (generally) more open communication.

    I didn’t comment after the first read, because I wanted some time to see if I was missing something. I am still hung up on Aurelia’s role in the story. It seems obvious for the women, (although the on-the-spot engagement seemed out if left field) but not why the author thinks the men would “know” to go to her for help.

    Comment by Juliathepoet — November 3, 2013 @ 11:26 pm

  5. Julia, this strange little story is thoroughly a product of its time, the Progressive Era. It was a time of busting trusts, cleaning up the public water supply, making milk safe through pasteurization, improving childhood through kindergartens and playgrounds, attempting to regulate child labor, etc.

    Often one of the prime movers in many of these efforts was a strong, civic-minded woman. For a national example, think Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in the president’s cabinet. For a Utah-specific example, think Elizabeth Hayward, a state senator involved in movements for playgrounds, child labor battles, education, immunization, women’s voting rights, and so forth.

    The character Aurelia in this story would be the wise Progressive woman, acting behind the scenes to manipulate society to a better place, but also acting publicly, serving both as a spokesperson for the improvement effort of the day and as a resource for the education and motivation to action of both women and men.

    Comment by Amy T — November 4, 2013 @ 5:19 am

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