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The Night Is Young: 1940

The Night Is Young: 1940

February 1940. "Boys and girls deciding what game to play next at 'play party' in McIntosh County, Oklahoma." Photo by Russell Lee. View full size.


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The play-party developed out of the American frontier experience and continued in rural environs well into the twentieth century. A play-party is a social gathering in which young people "play" a game involving drama and swinging movements performed to singing and hand clapping, without instrumental accompaniment. The play-party evolved from children's games and grew up in an era when musical instruments were considered inappropriate for proper social occasions. Many churches in early American communities shunned the fiddle, which was often described as "the Devil's box." In the middle South and in the southern highlands, oral tradition preserved play-parties, and as pioneers migrated westward, they carried these traditions with them.

More from the Oklahoma Historical Society

Play party?

No one looks happy here. Looks more like confrontation than partying. Got to be a story here.

Being White at Night

I'm not seeing much diversity in this party group. I'd be willing to bet that some of these kids had never seen a "colored person" in that town (or anywhere) before.

Great photo. Thanks for sharing.

Before the Rise of the Teenager?

These "boys and girls" look like adults to me, too. I realize though that I'm basing this decision on their mode of dress more than anything else. They look like they could be wearing their parents' clothes. I wonder when that age group started to have a more defined style.

Before global warming

February in Oklahoma -- lightly dressed for a winter evening.

What's in a name?

The caption refers to these folks as "boys and girls" but to me the men, in particular, look and dress much more like miniature adults than kids! The guy in the center, with the wavy hair, looks like he's ready to start a fight!

What game to play next

As long as they could stand around holding hands while they decided, I’m sure that was good enough.

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