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Charles Todd at the recording machine

[Detail] Charles Todd at the recording machine

Primary Source Set B: Dancing as a Form of Recreation, 1890s to 1930s

NOTE: This is an excerpt. The full text version of Charles Cole is in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.

... {excerpt begins}

Circumstances of Interview

NAME OF WORKER Frederick [W. Kaul?] ADDRESS Hastings, Nebr.

DATE Jan. 27, 1939 SUBJECT Folklore "Square Dances"

1. Name and address of informant Charles Cole [Hotel?], [Doniphan?], Nebr.

2. Date and time of interview Wednesday p.m., Jan. 18

3. Place of interview Home of Mrs. [Harger?], 410 West 4th, Hastings, Nebr.

4. Name and address of person, if any, who put you in touch with informant Mrs. Harger, 410 West 4th St., Hastings, Nebr.

5. Name and address of person if any, accompanying you None

6. Description of room, house, surroundings, etc. I later visited Mr. Cole's home and found it to be a frame building of 5 rooms, a farm home equipped with electricity. Furnishings were modern and well cared for.

FORM B Personal History of Informant

NAME OF WORKER Frederick W. Kaul ADDRESS Hastings, Nebr.

DATE Jan. 27, 1939 SUBJECT Folklore "Square Dances"

NAME AND ADDRESS OF INFORMANT Mr. Charles Cole, Rt. 1, Doniphan, Nebr.


1. Ancestry - English Descent

2. Place and date of birth - Doniphan, Nebr., June 6th, 1890

3. Family - Three children and mother - Wife dead

4. Place lived in, with dates - Doniphan 1890 to 1920. Santa Anna, Calif. 1920 to 1925. Has since resided at Doniphan

5. Education, with dates - Doniphan Public School --9th grade

6. Occupations and accomplishments, with dates - Farming and Stock Feeder. At present is a Road Contractor.

7. Special skills and interests -Farming and calling for Dances.

8. Community and religious activities - Member of Odd Follow Lodge, Mason, Woodman of the World. Is a Protestant.

9. Description of informant - Height 5 ft 9 inches. Weight 202. Dark hair, blue eyes and has a pleasing personality.

10. Other points gained in interview - Possibility of further interviews

FORM C Text of Interview (Unedited)

NAME OF WORKER Frederick W. Kaul ADDRESS Hastings, Nebr.

DATE Jan. 27, 1939 SUBJECT Folklore "Square Dances"

NAME AND ADDRESS OF INFORMANT Charles Cole, Rt.1, Doniphan, Nebr.


"My earliest recollection of dancing was when my folks took me along to the numerous 'Barn Dances' and I can distinctly remember many nights when I would beg to go home as I was not the least bit interested in them and the planks which served as seats seemed to be extraordinarly hard.

It was not until I joined the Odd Fellow's Lodge in California that I had any desire to participate but since dancing-and particularly square dancing-was the major part of their social entertainment at that time I decided to take some lessons. I can remember with horror the first night I ventured on a public floor. My feet seemed to become clubs and for some reason or other I was always in the wrong place. Months of careful observation and practice-in more remote places-soon dispelled my fears and after a few successful attempts I was really bitten by the dance bug.

It was during my observation period that I became fascinated in the art of calling and I began to listen and learn the different phrases used. Later this turned out to be a profitable lesson as I was soon called upon to manage dances in surrounding towns and to call for quadrilles or square dances.

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  • What was Charles Cole's first memory of dancing? What does this tell you about who took part in dances in the 1890s?
  • Have you ever had an experience similar to the "horror" Charles experienced on his first night of dancing? Do you think this is an experience that all generations have? Why or why not?
  • What do you think Charles meant by "I hope the younger generation enjoys themselves with their fantastic goings on"? Describe a situation today in which a person who is 40 years old might say the same thing.

Go to the complete interview from which this excerpt was taken.