The Rise and Fall of the Bobby Soxers

hair-comb-saddleshoes

In the early 1940s, Hitler was busy trampling Europe underfoot but over in America there was a different kind of terror that was threatening the nation. A moral panic that moved quickly from state to state spread, not by the march of the jackboot, but the pitter-patter of the bowling shoe!

The rebellious teen tribe known as the bobby-soxers was on the rise. Their crimes were too numerous to mention but close analysis of the films of the period reveal that some of the most common included:

  • Using slang
  • Laziness
  • Over the top emotions
  • Careless use of the telephone
  • Dancing to swing and big band music

Bobby-6

America had invented the teenager and the guardians of traditional family values promptly came up with an invention of their own:

The Teen Spanking!

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Educational insititutions were taking no chances either. In Utah, a brand new intake of college freshers turned up wearing the bobby soxer uniform of sweaters, skirts and ankle socks with bowling shoes. They were lined up and paddled in public as a deterrent. Better to be safe than sorry.

utah

The power of the press was employed to try and suppress bobby soxer rebellions wherever they broke out. The dreaded saddle shoe is clearly visible in this still of Betty Lynn being spanked with a newspaper from the film June Bride (1948).  In the same year,  Betty played another bratty bobby soxer in Sitting Pretty and was threatened with a bottom-warming in that too.

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I spotted a very similar scene in Harry’s post on the popular high school stage play Men are Like Streetcars. It tells the story of naughty Maudie Mason a character whose roots lie in the bobbysoxer era even though the play was still being performed into the 1970s.

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Soon even rural areas of the country were being defended with necessary force. This is one backwoods bobby soxer who won’t be commiting any of those top 5 sins again in a hurry!

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Shockingly, even the all American sweetheart and child star Shirley Temple grew up to be a bobby soxer. See her threatened with a spanking here.

Bobby soxer demigogues included the likes of Frank Sinatra and the less well known, but equally dangerous, Van Johnson. How many teenage girls fantasised about being in the position of June Allyson in the film Too Young to Kiss? Draped across Johnson’s knee, she is undergoing some much needed correction from her leader.

june-allyson-spanked

Unfortunately for the bobbysoxers, the authorities were able to exploit a vulnerability in their fashionable attire. Those “poodle” style skirts were just asking to be hoiked up!

Poodle-Skirt-Designs

While there is little authentic picture evidence of this tactic being employed, an excellent approximation from the early 21st Century shows what it might have looked like.

DSC_0082

The raised skirt panty spanking must have proved a very effective weapon as by the end of the decade the bobby soxers were in retreat. At the top of this post we see a student with a comb stuffed down her sock but it was a different kind of hair grooming device which proved their final undoing.The ultimate deterrent was reluctantly put into use against the remaining rebels.

bobbysoxer1

Bobbysoxer6

Hairbrush-ima soon had the bobby soxers begging to surrender and behave!

Credits: [Bobbysoxer6] This picture is from Harry’s collection and it’s never been on the internet before.

[utah] JS 666 sent me this version of the famous student paddling picture which is better quality than the one seen on most sites.

{Bobbysoxer5] I found this on Richard Windsor’s blog.

[Bobbysoxer3] I think this is from the website Punished Brats.

13 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of the Bobby Soxers”

  1. I like the new word you coined, “hoiked,” which I suspect is a typo resulting from thinking of both “hiked” and “hoisted,” and the fact that the o and i are next to each other on the keyboard.

    I’m not sure that America “invented” the teenager, although America did invent the cinema, which had an important influence on the development of the idea of the teenager as a segment of society. But doing a little quick research online indicates that the “teenager” as a segment of society was being discussed as early as the late 19th century.

    It seems that the concept of “teenager” was formed by a confluence of the rise of sociology as an academic field of study, the influence of the cinema (http://www.screeningthepast.com/2011/11/modernism-cinema-adolescence-another-history-for-teen-film/ ), the emphasis put on the increasing value of education, particularly of completing high school, the rise of the “big band” era of music with dancing being an important component of enjoying the music, and the rise of picture ‘fan’ magazines, such as “Photoplay.” There was also the effect of the Progressive Era’s fight to regulate child labor, culminating in the US Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Also to be taken into account was the steady increase in urbanization throughout the early 20th century, as well as the impact of the automobile, a ‘living room sofa’ on wheels. The automobile and the movie theater provided ways and places for teenagers to congregate away from their parents’ oversight.

    And lest we think that the concept ‘teenagers’ was the sole product of America, let’s not forget groups of young people outside of the United States such as the German “Swing Kids” of the 1930s.

    Sorry to have strayed so far from the primary topic of spanking.

    1. There is a typo/mis-spelling in the post but it’s not hoiked (which is a word I believe): Demigogues should be correctly Dem-a-gogues.(definition: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.)

      Thanks for your thoughts on teenagers. Your link looks interesting. I’ll get back to you when I’ve read it properly!

  2. I think the received wisdom that teenagers were a product of 1930s/40s America does stand up to scrutiny even if the concept and word existed long before that. In fact most of your reasons for the rise of the teenager date from that country and time span.

    I’ve now read most of the cinema essay concentrating on the bits about flappers, and Shirley Temple and the bobby-soxers and I think that supports the argument too

    As the writer concedes: there’s usually a lack of clear distinction between teenagers and young adults in the earlier flapper films. And while the ideas about adolescence to which the earliest teen films referred were not exclusively American, Hollywood’s dominance grounds the strong association between the teenagers and American-ness.

    In my post on Shirley Temple I quoted a roll-call of iconic teenage characters which went (in chronological order): Nancy Drew, Judy Graves, Corliss Archer, Gidget, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Britney Spears. You could now add Bella from Twilight and Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus to the end of that list, but I think the challenge for anyone wanting to argue that teenage girls were a thing before they were “invented” would be to add some names to the BEGINNING of the list. Not so easy.

    I liked this excerpt from the essay as it hints at why films about flappers and bobby soxers are such a fertile ground for spankings:

    “The heroine of flapper films often first appears to be a rebel and is discovered to be an ingénue; or else she understands herself as a rebel only to discover her desire to conform. The ambivalent relationship between rebellion and conformity so important to teen film is clearly established in these films as a youthful characteristic if not a necessary psycho-social developmental stage.

    As partial synonyms for “teenager”, the terms flapper and bobby-soxer point to a nexus of adolescence, commodity culture, and governance. They are simultaneously social problems and fashionable styles. Commodified teen film stars, as much as the characters they play, dramatise the problem of maturity through the circular trap of youthful glamour and public dramatisations of a clash between innocence and experience.”

    And this quote about Clara Bow (written by Leonard Hall in 1930) is great:

    “dashing, alluring and cinematically untamed, she was flaming youth incarnate — the personification of post-war flapperhood, bewitching, alluring and running hog-wild. All the old taboos and thou-shalt-nots were knocked dead by the new freedom for adolescents”.

    So why did she never get a screen spanking then? I find myself thinking (not for the first time!)

    1. About Clara Bow: ‘So why did she never get a screen spanking then? I find myself thinking (not for the first time!)’

      Except of course that she did, F/F, in the 1930 Paramount movie Her Wedding Night. There is a photo out there somewhere, albeit not an especially good one. The studio publicists thought that Clara Bow being spanked would be a big draw… but the film bombed!

      1. I’ve always thought that her prolific career + the type of roles she played made her a near certainty, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. I don’t think it’s on the internet movie databases. If you don’t have the picture perhaps someone out there does.

        So why wasn’t Louise Brooks ever spanked then?

        I’m just putting this out there in the hope that someone will tell me she was!

  3. A big part of the emergence of the teenager, in the States at least, was the fact that during the Great Depression there were no jobs for young people. Kids who would have entered the workforce after the eighth grade (13 or 14 years old), and become junior members of the adult world, were stuck with nothing to do. It was then that the idea of sending every kid to high school, which had previously been a minority experience, took hold. Instead of being junior adults, kids were spending most of their time in age-graded environments, where they interacted mainly with each other. And it was then that the phenomenon of a youth culture took off.

    This continued after the war, aided by the growth of teenaged spending power as prosperity reigned, making it commercially advantageous to target teenagers as a market. This built slowly, but by the 60’s and 70’s, there were so many “baby boomers,” people born between 1946 and 1962, and we were so used to talking mainly to each other, that we could swing society. Where previous generation, such as our parents, had resented things like traditional sexual rules, we were able to just ignore them. (Birth control helped.) If we didn’t like a rule, the rule went away.

    A great many adults were outraged, but they couldn’t stop it. There is no way of knowing, of course, how often adult outrage took the form of getting physical with errant daughters, but I’m sure there was a fair amount of it.

  4. This is a favorite post of mine, sorry that I had never gotten around to telling you that before. It inspired me to the point that I found enough material for a part two. But most sequels never rise to the level of the original.

    1. You know how to coax a guy out of semi-retirement, Sweetspot 🙂
      I really enjoyed putting this post together, thanks.

      A bobbysoxer sequel huh? Now there’s an idea/challenge!

      Will be posting more of your other pictures very soon.

      Valdor

  5. I try to check back here every now and then. With Chross only chrossing very infrequently I actually have to visit sites directly to see if anything interesting is going on. Thanks for the update. I’m retired myself, I mean from purposeful employment, not from my archiving, although I’ve mostly taken my searches in a different direction from the material that would be of interest to The Spank Statement. I’m always good for a top ten though or to send you anything of interest I might come up with.

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