A Methodist minister by the name of S.R. Robinson became the catalyst for a discussion on the evils of dancing 100 years ago in Cape Girardeau. The Rev. Robinson, presiding elder of the Dexter, Missouri, district of the Methodist church, filled the pulpit for the Rev. E.H. Orear at Centenary Methodist Church on Jan. 2, 1921, and gave the congregation an earful.
His sermon was reported on in the next day's Southeast Missourian. On the front page, no less. And the day after that, the editors followed up with an editorial in support of some of what Robinson said.
That led to more articles, including one in which Ben Dietrich, proprietor of the Blue Ribbon Ice and Fuel Co., and a "champion of dancing," said he would be willing to debate the minister. Robinson, in his sermon, had offered to do just that, going so far as to say he would "provide a hall and pay the expenses for a debate on dancing if anyone desires to take issue with me." However, there is no indication that such a debate actually occurred.
Things quieted down somewhat after that, only to be stirred up again in the fall of 1921 after a new president took over the reins of the presidency of the Southeast Missouri State Teachers College. Dr. Joseph A. Serena, who came here from William Woods College in Fulton, Missouri, banned dancing at the Cape Girardeau college on Sept. 16, 1921, just three weeks after assuming the presidency.
Adding to the negative views of dancing was the visit here of Evangelist Burke Culpepper, who held a weeks-long revival at Centenary Methodist Church. He left no doubt about his views on the subject of dancing, card playing, bathing suits and "young folks who have developed into 'kissing bugs.'"
Here are excerpts from the Missourian's coverage of the dancing controversy, beginning with Rev. Robinson's front-page condemnation.
Published Jan. 3, 1921, in the Southeast Missourian:
WHAT HARM IS THERE IN DANCING?
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WHAT GOOD IS THERE, ASKS PASTOR
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LEADS GIRLS ASTRAY, HE DECLARES
Rev. S.M. Robinson, presiding elder of Dexter district, and a resident and taxpayer of Cape Girardeau is against dancing and doesn't care who knows it. He said so in his sermon at Centenary Church Sunday morning and spoke in terms that even the children present understood.
He said he has always been against and he's more against it now than ever before. He is opposed to schools encouraging dancing and he said many people are against the Friday night dances that are permitted at the State College in Cape Girardeau.
"'What harm is there in dancing?' many people ask. I say the answer is, 'What good is there in it?'" exclaimed the preacher.
Rev. Robinson was filling the pulpit for Rev. Orear, who was away on a vacation. He said he would take the opportunity to warn people against an evil that is the beginning of many a ruined life. More girls go to ruination through the dance, whether it be in the home or the public dance hall, than from any other cause, he said.
Rev. Robinson gave several examples of the dangers in dancing. He said he went into a Cape Girardeau restaurant about 1 o'clock in the morning and back of him sat a group of boys who had been to a dance. They were pointing out the "peaches" at the ball, he said. One of the boys said that a certain girl was a dandy because she had no objection to be "loved up" and the other boys assented. The girls who were not so enthusiastic over the dance and who did not submit themselves so enthusiastically to the boys were called "sticks," the pastor declared.
Such a discussion as this should make mothers and fathers wonder what is becoming of their girls when they send them out to dance, Rev. Robinson said.
Leads girls astray
"I don't mean to leave the impression that all girls who dance are being led astray or act improperly, but I do say that the dance leads more girls astray than anything else," the preacher said.
"The newspaper in Cape Girardeau is advertising the town as principally a dancing community. Most of the social items that appear in the paper tell of dancing. Dances in the schools are written up and the people in the adjacent counties are impressed with the idea that dancing comes first here.
"I want to say to you that many people are against dancing and that many parents will not send their children (to school) here for that reason," the preacher said.
Editorial published Jan. 4, 1921, in the Southeast Missourian:
Rev. Robinson isn't the first Cape Girardeau preacher who raised his voice against dancing, although his protest is the first to be heard in recent years. Occasionally a warning is sounded and we presume it goes the way of the wind.
Fifteen years ago a Rev. Brown, a Kentuckian who drove a spirited horse and who was an aggressive red-blooded man, sounded a warning against dancing and boozing, which he said were partners, and before long he resigned his pastorate. If any other pastor has taken a strong stand against dancing since Rev. Brown departed we don't remember it. Rev. Robinson is in a safe position because he doesn't depend upon Cape Girardeau for his bread and butter.
Whether dancing is right or wrong, or whether it is necessary to the aesthetic development of the body, which some scientific professions contend, we do not know, but we do know of people who are sending their daughters away to school because they claim dancing is permitted to have predominance in Cape Girardeau schools.
Very likely Rev. Robinson said much when he declared that many parents are not impressed with the Friday night dances in the schools, and no doubt there are Christian parents in Southeast Missouri who refuse to send their boys and girls to Cape Girardeau because they can send them other places where dancing is left for a post graduate course to be taken elsewhere.
It is said that more students are sent from Southeast Missouri to schools in other parts of the state than come here, and it may be that Rev. Robinson has given the reason.
Two related articles appeared in the Jan. 6, 1921, edition of the Southeast Missourian:
ASK PASTOR TO EXPLAIN WHY HE WAS UP AT 1 A.M.
REV. ROBINSON'S MAIL BIGGER THESE DAYS
Rev. S.M. Robinson, presiding elder of the Dexter district for the Methodist Church, who resides in Cape Girardeau, tells The Missourian he is receiving letters from people regarding his sermon at Centenary Church last Sunday against dancing.
The letters commend him for his stand and his sermon against dancing, except one, signed "Citizen," he says, and "Citizen" wants to know how it happened a respectable preacher and a presiding elder was at a restaurant at 1 o'clock in the morning and heard and saw young people loudly talk and indecently behave.
"Citizen" asked Dr. Robinson to reply through The Missourian, so the maximum number of people could read about his confusion in attempting to reply to the criticism.
Dr. Robinson requests The Missourian to explain for the benefit of "Citizen" that he was at the restaurant to get something to eat before taking a night train to Southeast Missouri counties of his district.
DEBATE ON DANCING NOW IS RAGING
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DIETRICH WOULD DEBATE MINISTER
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BUT DECLINES TO ISSUE CHALLENGE
When the Rev. S.M. Robinson, Methodist minister, preached a sermon denouncing at Centenary Church last Sunday, he did something else. He announced, perhaps inadvertently, a subject for debate today, yesterday and tomorrow. And who has not taken part in this debate, to some extent or other?
Debating is the order of the day in Southeast Missouri. At the club, in the sewing circle, on the street and at home, the debate goes on.
But it has remained for Ben Dietrich, proprietor of the Blue Ribbon Ice and Fuel Company to state that he is willing to debate the question of the propriety of dancing with the Rev. Robinson as his opponent. Dietrich is willing, he says, to meet the minister in a friendly, well-ordered declamatory, oratorical combat. He will take the side as a champion of dancing.
"No, I'll not challenge the Rev. Robinson to debate, but I'd be willing to debate against him," said Dietrich today. "Perhaps it might be out of place for me to challenge the clergyman -- I'll not presume to do that. But I would be willing to take issue publicly with him, favoring dancing myself."
Dietrich considers himself fairly well qualified to discuss the subject of dancing. He has dance, has been the proprietor of a dance hall and has paid particular attention to the terpsichorean art and its followers, he says. He does not consider dancing harmful when properly conducted. "Automobile rides have proven disastrous to young girls," he states in a communication to The Missourian, "but I never have seen anyone rise up and declare that all automobiling, for young and old, for business or pleasure, should be abolished and all automobiles discarded and the factories closed."
In the meantime friends of dancing are looking for a champion to take the field against those who frown upon the pastime. Several have urged Dietrich, and others, to assume leadership. Letters have been written to the Rev. Robinson, but no formal challenge for debate has been sent to him, so far as has been learned.
"I don't blame the Rev. Robinson for taking a stand against dancing," said one man today. "I believe in dancing, but I do not believe in the way they dance now. Of course, that's not the issue -- the question is: Should we dance? I say we should, but we shouldn't dance the way we, I mean the young people, do. And," he added, cautiously, "I blame the young girls. The way they put their cheeks against the faces of the boys is disgusting. If the girls objected it wouldn't be done. And it's the girls who do the Shimmy Shaking, the Groggy Grappling and the Wiggle Wobbling -- or it wouldn't be done. I never saw a boy dance solo, did you?'
Published Sept. 16, 1921, in the Southeast Missourian:
DANCING IS TABOO AT COLLEGE HERE
PRESIDENT SERENA EXPLAINS REASON FOR NEW ORDER
Dancing in the Teachers College has been stopped until further notice, President Joseph A. Serena announced at the college in the assembly today. This includes dancing at the student parties which have been held on Friday nights, dancing in either of the dormitories or at any of the receptions that may be held, the president stated.
President Serena explained to the students that he believed it to be the best for the college to dispense with dancing for the time being, owing to the sentiment against dancing in this college district.
There has been more or less objection to dancing in the college since it was introduced three years ago, it was stated, coming to a climax in this city last January when the college was bitterly denounced along with the citizens of Cape Girardeau by a minister in the pulpit of a local church for permitting dancing to go on. No statements were made by the college officials at that time, but it is known that there was strong sentiment at that time among the college faculty to abolish dancing.
Four days into his revival at Centenary Methodist Church, Evangelist Burke Culpepper condemned dancing in no uncertain terms and had a few other choice words to say about the habits of Cape Girardeau's young people.
Published Nov. 3, 1921, in the Southeast Missourian:
GIRLS TOLD WHEN TO LET A MAN KISS 'EM, BY EVANGELIST, HERE;
DANCING CALLED HOME-WRECKER
A house filled from the pit to the galleries last night heard the Rev. Burke Culpepper discharge broadsides at the shimmy and other antics of Terpsichore, at Methodists and other church members how are infected with the dancing habit and card playing, and at young folks who have developed into "kissing bugs." The congregation began to arrive early and by the time the evangelist began his bombardment Centenary Church was crowded...
"If I was a girl I would say that no boy could kiss me until I was his wife. A boy goes down the street and tells another standing at the drug store that he kissed so and so; the boy at the drug store says 'I did, too,' and down further at the candy store another says 'me, too.' I would hate to marry a girl that everybody had slobbered over. It is fine for a girl to be able to say when she walks down the aisle to the altar that no man ever kissed here. No matter if a boy does give you carnations and candy -- he gives them to all of the other girls.
"Some day the right one will ask you to become his wife and you'll say 'ask daddy.' He will say, 'Daughter, I give my consent.' Don't let him kiss you yet. He will give you a ring, but don't trust him yet. Take it down to the jeweler and see if it will stand the acid test. The ring is all right, you find, but don't let him kiss you yet.
"You get ready for the wedding and sister says you look nice. You go down to the church and you go in one door and he another. The preacher pronounces the words that make you one -- don't let him kiss you yet; let him wait three days. (Laughter.) It is better to make him wait than be a kissing machine.
"A boy loses respect for a girl when she lets him kiss her. He is lying like a dog if he says he don't. He may say 'you look good to me kid,' and all that, but don't pay any attention to that bunk. Young people go to hell for the want of proper direction.
"I don't endorse dancing at all -- in the boarding school or anywhere else. It think it is a tragedy to allow it in the public school, an insult to the church and to God. Any preacher that hasn't the backbone to object to dancing among members of his church ought to be turned out on the grass.
"At Paducah a steward of the church gave a dance at his home while I was preaching out my soul. We made it so hot for him that he left the church.
"Some of the preachers do not denounce dancing because they are afraid of (losing) their jobs and so they say 'well let them have it on their conscience.'
"Dancing is a divorce-feeder, a church-emptier and home-wrecker. I never saw any dancing teacher who had any spiritual power. I never saw any church member who permitted dancing and card playing in his home who had any spiritual influence. It promotes animal passions -- the devilish vulgar dance.
"I don't know about you girls, but most girls have good intentions and are looking for no evil or harm, but dancing is a devil's clearing house for men. I know what I am talking about, for hundreds of men have come to my rooms and told me into what dancing had lead them. Ask Mr. (John U.) Robinson (the song leader for the revival).
"If any boy can dance with his arms around a pretty girl and feel like an angel -- well I don't believe it! I will be honest. I think an honest girl dances because it is fashionable, like she pulls her eyebrows out. If you think a man can put his arms around a pretty girl in these dances and feel spotless and pure you are mistaken.
"Yes, dancing is a divorce-feeder. Your county club dancing -- I don't know whether y0u have a country club here or not -- I don't approve of that. You dance with my wife and I dance with yours. You'll not dance with my wife; I'll not have her sashaying around with another man. When I got married I locked the door on every other woman.
"These one-piece bathing suits! I think people ought to wash, all right, but they ought to do it at home.
"I don't say that all men have their low natures developed, but there are a plenty that have. And the dirty, nasty, shimmy dance -- I have no words strong enough. I was at a place where I saw great, big men hugging 16-year-old girls in this dance. It filled me with despair. The girls' faces were flushed and eyes glowing. Some of the best girls of the town, too! These men were putting their hands on the girls' bare backs and hugging them up. I burst into tears. Ask Robinson. If you want to put an assignation house on wheels take the average auto going to these dances.
"Seventh-five percent of the abandoned women owe their downfall to the dance and the dance hall. I can prove this beyond a doubt. Anybody that plays jazz music ought to be sentenced for carrying concealed weapons.
"The Episcopalians and Catholics are as much opposed to dance as are Methodists and Baptists and Presbyterians. You may have a week-kneed preacher that winks at it. Not every girl is hurt by dancing, but many are. Some may be extra strong. It is a road that leads from bad to worse and then down and out. I knew a man that passed through three wars and was never touched by a bullet, but that does not mean that we want bullets to fly promiscuously. The dance hurts you; it hurts the church.
"Young man, you should never act towards any girl like you would not want a man to act towards your sister. If you are any kind of a man at all you will never treat a girl in a way you would not want one to treat your sister.
"God pity the poor man whose wife leaves the babies at home while she dances. God never made the church primarily, but he made the home and the church is made from the home and when the home goes down the church goes down, civilization goes down.
"You are not a decent Methodist if you go to a dance.
"One year ago there was a tremendous revival at Franklin, Tennessee, in God's country, the natives call it, that captured the town and even affected Nashville. It was a wicked place, with its card-playing dancing and other vices. Twenty-five bootleggers were among those converted.
"One of them was a man named Isaacs. He was made superintendent of the Sunday School. Later his boy was convicted of a crime. The judge sentenced him to 20 years in the pen.
"'No, no, judge,' Mr. Isaacs exclaimed. 'Do not send him to the pen. Let me go in his place. I sold whisky; I danced. It was my fault that the boy went to ruin. Let me take his place in the pen.' But the judge told him he could not do that and the boy was sent to prison.
"The next Sunday Mr. Isaacs went to the church and told the Sunday School that he could not teach any more, with his son in the pen, through his fault. That night there was a prayer meeting in that town that lasted all night. They went to Isaacs' house the next morning and told him they wanted him to keep on with the Sunday School and that they would pray for him and try to get his son out of prison."
The Thursday night meeting promises to be a live one, as the evangelist announced that he would drag a tomcat by the tail, using a folding chair to illustrate the process. The subject of the sermon will be "Chickens Come Home to Roost." "I hope all the roosters in town will come out to hear it," the evangelist said.
Rev. Orear stated that they have a large number of chairs in reserve, and would try to find seats for all who attend the meeting.
The sentiment against dancing at the local college continued for a number of years. And it wasn't until Oct. 5, 1932, that Dr. Serena announced the ban was being lifted.