A group of women in Denton started Old Maid’s Day in 1950 to get “recognition, not menfolks.” It all began when Miss Dorothy Babb, a Latin and English teacher at North Texas State College (NTSC, now the University of North Texas) was tired of buying gifts for weddings, Mother’s Day, and baby showers. She complained to Mrs. Dude Neville McCloud, the NTSC news service director that it was unfair that she only got gifts at Christmas and had spent over $1500.00 buying gifts for others. On a lark Mrs. McCloud wrote a feature for the Associated Press which was picked up all over the United States and eventually overseas asking for recognition and gifts for women who either couldn’t or refused to get married.
Denton Mayor Mark Hannah designated Tuesday, August 15th, 1950 a day to honor unmarried women. People suggested more flattering names such as glamor girls, unclaimed blessings, unclaimed jewels, career girls, unmarried ladies or bachelor girls, but Miss Babb said that she just preferred being called an old maid. “Anybody who didn’t like the name [old maid] could just go and get married.”
The first year’s celebration included a tea at the Denton Country Club, and free soft drinks, popcorn and candy, as well as admission to a show featuring ‘Fessor Floyd Graham and his orchestra, and films at the Campus Theater, including The Three Stooges in “The Brideless Groom.” In addition, other gifts were provided for distribution to any unmarried woman who would admit to being an old maid.
Skip to 0:30 in this clip of footage from our NBC 5/KXAS Collection to see the 1951 Old Maid’s Celebration, featuring Dorothy Babb. This is a silent clip because anchors read the script live over film clips. You can access the script in the Portal to Texas History [link coming soon].
In 1951 the event for the “unclaimed jewels” grew and had 350 attendees to the tea, to see ‘Fessor Graham, and attend a Fort Worth Cats baseball game that was played in their honor. By 1953 attention came from all over the country with people calling, and even stopping by Miss Babb’s house to see the country’s most famous old maid. The old maids were overwhelmed and suggested that the gifts should be sent to Girlstown in Whiteface, near Lubbock. Many of the old maids knew that they would never have children of their own so they could send money to help the homeless girls instead, under the guidance of Miss Amelia Anthony, a fellow old maid.
By 1954 the event was heralded by local papers: “Hide your husbands, girls, they’re coming again.” 1954’s event began with a free screening of Gone with the Wind at the Interstate Theater and a personal message sent by telegram from Clark Gable. The movie was followed by a tea at the Southern Hotel which was emceed by ‘Fessor Graham and musical entertainment was provided by musicians from NTSC, including Pat Boone.
Also in 1954 Miss Babb went to Chicago to appear on a nationally televised show called, “Welcome Travelers.” A motorcade accompanied her to Love Field and members of the NTSC sabre drill team formed an honor guard as she got on the plane.
By 1955 the old maids had received letters of every kind, including letters in German, from servicemen in Guam, marriage offers from well-to-do bachelors, and plenty from “cranks.” One offer even came from Cyclone Davis, who was running for Texas governor. That year Governor Allan Shivers issued a proclamation honoring the unmarried ladies of Texas and setting August 15th as a day to honor them.
The event gradually became smaller, but the old maids still got together as late as 1965. Over the years they had appeared in papers internationally, inspired sister groups all over the United States and as far away as London. They also appeared in Reader’s Digest, Time Magazine, and had photos in Parade Magazine. Old Maid’s Day still appears on calendars of offbeat holidays and is celebrated in 2015 on June 4th.
– by Lisa Brown