My interest was piqued by a small news item on the front page of the newspaper inviting “widowers and bachelors” to attend the first convention of the Old Maids’ Association. While single men were the target audience, the public also was welcome to attend the meeting on October 25, 1902, at the Knights of Pythias hall, a large frame building on the corner of Second and Main in Sandpoint.One week later a larger article provided more information on the upcoming event. The 16 women in the Old Maids’ Association, ranging in age from 14 to 24, hoped to correspond with eligible bachelors and widowers “between the ages of 16 and 90 with a view to matrimony.” They claimed that they were all “exceptionally handsome women” and were perplexed that their beauty had yet to be recognized “by the sterner sex.” They offered to exchange tin types and locks of hair but asked that “the latter be returned for future use.” The notice was signed by Rebecca Petrace, secretary and treasurer of the association.
The day before the big event another article revealed the truth: The Old Maid’s Convention was a one-act comedy and most of those depicting the “old maids” were actually married women. The cast of creatively named characters included Minty Clovertop, Desire A. Mann, Hepalbah Odelia Olds, May Haverman, Petunia Pickles, Charity Hopegood, Serena Hasben, Anxiety Doherty, Eliza Hooker, and Prof. Makeover. The play hoped to depict the real lives of “old maids,” including “their true aim and ambition in life.” General admission for the public was fifty cents, with children under 12 at half price.
The play was well attended and, judging by the laughter, was deemed a huge success. The women were complimented especially on their makeup, and the newspaper suggested that their acting showed excellent training for their roles. Rev. J.C. Reed also was pleased since the entertainment raised $84.50 to benefit him and the Methodist Episcopal Church in Sandpoint.
Did Desire ever find her man? More than 100 years later, inquiring minds still want to know!
“Local Brevities,” Kootenai County Republican, 10 October 1902, 1:3; “Notice to Widowers and Bachelors,” Kootenai County Republican, 17 October 1902, 1:5; “The Old Maids’ Convention,” Kootenai County Republican, 24 October 1902, 1:5; “Old Maids’ Convention,” Kootenai County Republican, 31 October 1902, 1:5-6; Map of Sandpoint, Idaho (New York: Sanborn Map Company, September 1904), 4.