Fremont County, Iowa

Box Socials
by Evelyn Birkby
View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
November 7, 2015

Back in the days of country schools, the Box Social was a special activity held for the purpose of raising money for some needed project. Women would decorate cardboard boxes and fill them with a lunch or dinner for two. The men bid on the women's boxes anticipating a meal with the woman who had prepared the treat.

Whoever won the bidding at an auction (the method of choosing), ate with the woman who prepared the box. As you can imagine, many ladies gave hints to the young man they wanted to bid on their box. Clearly, wives would give their husbands a clue so they could eat together.

The food I remember from these events was finger food, so no dishes or silverware was needed. Many of the ladies put fried chicken in their boxes, along with butter and bread sandwiches, fruit, cookies and cake. Others had hearty sandwiches for the main offering along with their special homemade cookies and cake.

It was a great way to socialize with other young people for in some rural areas, the young people had few acceptable ways to meet new people and be with their friends. Box Socials became a way they could mix in a risk-free environment.

I can remember going to a country school, in 1938, where an evening of festivities were planned. For some reason they had no one to accompany group singing and the chair person knew my musical ability would provide at least that much assistance.

Off I went to find that country school building that had electric lights welcoming us out their windows (unusual for that day, most country schools were not electrified so evening events were not common). The building was filled with happy, laughing people of all ages. Piled on top of the teacher's desk were a myriad of boxes decorated with crepe paper, ribbons, feathers, construction paper, anything available and able to pique the imagination of the lady who prepared it.

First the school students gave some recitations, then they had the auction of the dinner boxes.

The bidding involved much teasing, joking, and competition. Only the men bid and soon those attending were paired off in the student's seats or in chairs around the exterior of the room eating happily of the special treats their winnings had provided. $4.00 to $5.00 was top money bid, a goodly amount for those depression days. My hostess had thoughtfully provided a meal for me so I did not participate except to thoroughly enjoy watching the entire event. Then I played the simple songs and they sang heartily and finally we found our way home through the soft Iowa dark.

The practice has fallen out of favor but a group could raise money by restoring the old time Box Socials. They still sound like lots of fun.

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