When I was a girl, V and I spent many Saturdays in our town’s “downtown.” Going downtown in the late 50’s and the 60’s was a fairly-big deal, as we lived out in the suburbs. Back then, one “dressed” to go downtown: I remember my mother putting on a dress, stockings and heels to go. We kids never wore our play clothes to go downtown. This photo to the left is of my hometown in the late 50’s. If you look closely, you’ll see that the women were all in dresses or skirts with hose…no jeans or even dress slacks on women downtown in those days.
There was a ritual for most of my trips to town with V; always on Saturday, and sometimes several times in one month. V’s mother never learned to drive. Her father, a newspaper printer by weekday, was a pool shark on Saturdays! He spent his Saturdays in the pool hall downtown, so either he’d take us to town or (more often) he would drop V’s mother and us kids off at V’s aunt’s house, where we would gather V’s grandmother and catch the bus into downtown.
Once there, we would deposit “MawMaw” in the ladies’ lounge at one of the finer department stores, where she would wait all morning for us to return to get her for lunch, after which she would go back to sit in the lounge until we were ready to catch the afternoon bus back to V’s aunt’s house. V’s father would pick us up there for the return ride home.
Try as I might, I could not find a vintage photo of MawMaw’s lounge, but the ones scattered through this post give you an idea of the ambience. These pictures were all found by searching for “ladies lounge” so, apparently, the concept was widespread.
The “lounge” was actually an anteroom to the ladies’ restroom. You got to this place by going through the ladies’ lingerie department, all the way to the back. There you would find an expansive room furnished with comfortable couches and chairs, with magazines displayed across the little tables; with reading lamps on the end tables. There was a pay phone conveniently placed.
To the back was the entrance to the white-tiled “ladies’ room.” The bathroom area had its own little anteroom with a vanity table and chairs to pull up and “fix one’s face.”
This entire area was securely buffered against males by the lingerie department: it was exclusively a female domain. Far from being irritated at the ladies who gathered there all day, the store encouraged it—the room was furnished expressly for these women.
As I looked around the web on the subject, I find that this was a common facility provided by banks and department stores. When I first began to practice law in 1979, our “ladies’ room” in the Courthouse had a similar arrangement. There was a lounge area with mirrored vanity tables and couches. This is long since gone in favor of “better” space use and a “unisex” bathroom with child-changing area to complement the “Men’s” and “Women’s” rooms.
On Saturdays MawMaw’s lounge would be occupied by a collection of older ladies who had gathered there simply to “visit.” MawMaw had her little coterie of friends who frequented the lounge on Saturdays. Need I say that they were all white?
So far as I know, this was the only time MawMaw saw these women, but she looked forward to sitting for hours, comfortably ensconced with a sparkling bathroom nearby, and chatting while we traipsed around downtown with V’s mother, shopping all day long (and that all-day shopping thing is a whole ‘nother “weirdness” post).
This “lounge” concept seems to have gone out of style with the idea of feminine frailty and the “fainting” woman who requires afternoon rests and tender care… sheesh! I love the company of other women, but the idea of just sitting and chatting for hours each Saturday bespeaks to me of a group of women with little else to do.
V and I have our own little group of women friends and we try to meet regularly, although we fail in that because of our schedules. Still, our meetings are over Margaritas and dinner and, while we can spend hours talking, in MawMaw’s case, we’re looking at six hours or more. Each week. How did they do that?
Still, the idea of a women’s “refuge” like this is somewhat appealing. It just needs to be a bit different…like with a Margarita machine and nibbles.
As I write this post, it occurs to me that these Saturdays were a deep depiction of the segregation of the genders (not to mention races!) during that time. There was MawMaw, in her feminine domain; V’s mother and us girls were doing the womanly activity of shopping; while V’s father spent his Saturdays in that bastion of maleness, where no lady dared enter: the pool hall.
Bye-gone days? C