“Just Say No,” 1880s-style

A hundred years before America’s youth were encouraged to “just say no” to drugs, many

young people shunned the use of alcohol and tobacco. For some, playing cards was also

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


“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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