“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.”

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