“Just Say No,” 1880s-style

The young women of West Point, Nebraska gave an ultimatum to the town’s boys via poetry: “The man who takes the red, red wine,
Can never glue his lips to mine.”

A hundred years before American kids were encouraged to “just say no” to drugs, many young people shunned the use of alcohol and tobacco. For some, even playing cards were taboo. Then as now, peer pressure was a significant factor in young folks’ behavior. Some clever young women in West Point found a novel way to encourage their male counterparts to abstain:

“Last Friday evening, at the Club dance, one of our most charming young ladies waited on Gus Rooper, the handsome clerk at Goldsmith’s, and after informing him that she came as the chosen representative of the young ladies of West Point, she handed him a sweetly scented ‘billet doux,’ with a request not to read it until the following morning. Gus gave his promise, and kept it. Here is what he found the next morning:

‘The man who takes the red, red wine,
Can never glue his lips to mine.
The man who chews the navy plug,
Will in our parlor get no hug.
Who smokes, or drinks, or cuts a deck,
Shall never, never bite my neck.
Don’t you monkey with the cards,
Or we can never be your pards.
The man who guzzles lager beer,
Can never, never bite my ear.
Drink nothing stronger than red pop,
Or in your lap I’ll never flop.
If aught than water you e’er taste,
Just keep your arm from off my waist.
If you drink wine or other slop,
You can never hear my corset pop.
The man who smokes the cigarette,
Can never squeeze me, you can bet.’

“Gus immediately issued a call for a meeting of the boys that evening, at which there was full attendance. After a stormy debate, it was decided to reform, commencing New Year’s. In the meantime Kim Valentine and Ed McMahone (the teetotalers) are having a high old time with the girls, and have as much as they can possibly do to keep up with their engagements.”

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Lending a Helping Hand: Social Settlement of Omaha

Lending a Helping Hand: Social Settlement of Omaha

Nebraska and the resettlement of displaced persons after World War II, part 1

Nebraska and the resettlement of displaced persons after World War II, part 1

Marker Monday: Evelyn Sharp

Marker Monday: Evelyn Sharp

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.
Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.