You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
(Editor’s Note: This is the latest in an occasional series of articles in which readers contribute stories related to the town’s past history. Today’s article was written by frequent contributor and longtime Saugus resident and writer Janice K. Jarosz.)
Virginia Slims was a cigarette brand developed by Philip Morris in 1968 and marketed exclusively to women. Its early advertising campaigns exploited civil rights movements of the ’60s with the slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby,” a slogan which has lasted into modern times.
In the early days of 1915, Saugus was made up of mostly God fearing, pitchfork kind of people who valued straight talk and hard work, houses of worship, sprawling farms, and with small businesses nestled in our young community.
Saugus was no different than any other New England town; most residents minded their own business with very little mingling outside of their borders; a tight rein was kept on the people, as common trust was not prevalent with “outsiders.”
Those reins were held in the hands of religious leaders, town officials and officers of the law, in that order. All three groups were in charge and caretakers of the moral fiber of the community. They handed down approved methods of social correctness, much different than today.
Church laws prevailed and attendance at church on the Sabbath was mandatory; obedience to parents was a given, and if young whippersnappers gave them any trouble, the pastor, then the Police were called in. If all else failed, an errant child, as young as nine, could be sentenced to a “Home for Wayward Wanderers.”
Many of the Blue Laws – originally enacted by the Puritans in the seventeenth century – regulated moral behavior. Crimes included swearing, lying, drunkenness, failure to attend church on the Sabbath, to name a few. Violators of the Blue Laws could be assessed fines, be whipped, have body parts burned or cut off and might even receive the death penalty.
Many of the Blue Laws enacted over 350 years ago still exist today – some reflecting ignorance, fear of the unknown or both while some make no sense at all to us today. For example, it was against the law to play croquet on the Sabbath, or engage in sales, playing outdoor sports or gathering in a park. You could not sew or play cards on Sundays, and your parlor (living room) was off limits to the family because the priest might be making an unannounced home visit.
In 1978, it was against the Blue Laws to sell cold cuts on Sunday in Saugus and elsewhere.
So, between the stringent laws that could land you in jail, places of worship for the soul served the needs of the spirit, and it was very difficult to find entrainment or fun that didn’t come with a religious or Blue Law violation.
It was a time in the early years that Republicans seldom dated Democrats and it was a common practice not to be on the same sidewalk if you were of a different affiliation. (I often wondered how they could tell the difference.)
Irish Catholics were not welcome at Riverside until the 1900s, but they were taught that they were the only ones going to heaven! Rainbow girls were not allowed to accept Catholics into their membership, while Catholics were not allowed to attend a non-Catholic church and could not be a part of a wedding party or serve as a God Parent to a non-Catholic family.
When two very prominent Irish Catholic families, the Monahans and the Luceys, moved into Prospect Street, the hue and cry from the neighbors was “there goes the neighborhood.”
In 1934, orange ties were banned at Saugus High School by Principal Earle Macleod because of the “horseplay” at the previous St. Patrick’s Day celebration, and signs were posted all over the school – “NO ORANGE TIES!”
A strict dress code prevailed throughout the schools. Girls’ skirts had to be at least one inch lower than the knee, and tape measures were held in the hands of the teachers. In 1948, the Saugus Board of Selectmen voted to ban Sunday bowling when local proprietors of the Saugus View Inn, on Bristow Street, requested a permit to operate a bowling alley in a basement on the Sabbath. Selectmen also banned pinball machines, and a local newspaper ran the story. “Although the quintet of selectmen deprived the town of $925.00 in additional revenue, they declared the move was worth it because school students were gambling their lunch money daily on the devices.”
At a meeting in November, town fathers banned the sale of comic magazines from newsstands because they were considered “sexy, wanton, vulgar, and obscene, showing women unduly exposed and showing judges and policemen as stupid and using obscene language as well.” A retired policeman spoke about another issue concerning the horrible deeds being committed over the air waves that prompted the recommendation of instituting a “Censor Bureau.”
If you sat too close to your date, an attendant at the State Theater would shine his flashlight on the both of you. If you danced too close to one another at Miss Virginia Austin’s School of the Dance, your chances of winning a candy bar were slim or next to none.
Only males were allowed in the Rat Hole during its 15-year operation as the Central Street hangout was looked upon as the den of iniquity by the elders – believing there was nothing there but bad boys smoking, playing pool and bowling. The Rat Hole was run by Harry Bamford, who ran the business with an iron fist. Anyone who didn’t go by the strict rules he set was banned and could only return if he had an apology letter written and signed by a parent.
We may have come a long way since those early times. The stigma of religious differences has subsided somewhat: The Irish are learning how to cook from their Italian neighbors, and teenagers have the freedom today to dress the way they choose. Today we can holler, “Pull up your pants” and get away with it. We can now bowl on Sundays and proudly wear an orange tie on St. Paddy’s Day, but have we truly come a long way?