Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Gay Nineties

For many long years, the Tammany Tiger held sway over the growing city's vast coffers of public funds and patronage jobs. And much of the kickbacks and bribes were funnelled into private celebrations in the local party headquarters in the various lower-class neighborhoods which provided the muscle work which kept them in power. Contemporary accounts of these night-long revels concentrate on the drinking, the feasting and debauchery - while ignoring a significant social side-effect. While the "bhoys" were out guzzling themselves into a stupor, the "ghals" were having their own clandestine gatherings - dressed in loose lacy finery or their errant husbands' trousers, they'd go off to "sewing circles" with names like "The Three Needles", "Sappho's Seamstresses", and "The Linen Sisterhood". When morning came, the men were flat broke, passed out in pools of their own vomit, while the women arose with lazy, groggy smiles in each others' arms. Fueled by passion, the circles grew and grew - always keeping their special secret from the easily fooled oafish men, one of them eventually becoming the Triangle Shirtwaist Sorority, which was sadly bought out, renamed and relocated to Washington Square where it gained immortality as as the site of one of this city's most tragic fires.

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