A Dance in Washington Park

Friends of Fannie and Mershell, members of Edelweiss, some music, some dancing.

I can’t believe that I forgot to include the final event of the Edelweiss Club in my A to Z! It was the invitation card that was included in a post in the 2018 A to Z Challenge and a question by Anne of Anne’s Family History about the Edelweiss Club started my investigation. Click on any image to enlarge.

Fannie Turner (colorized)

Monday am
June 2, 1919

My dear shell:

Your letter just came and everything in is was ok.

I laughed so loudly over certain parts of it that Naomi and Rufus wanted to know if they might read it too…. I told them they were too young to read such.

As I wrote you last time, your plans suit me all ok and as you say when you get here, we can talk the balance over.

This leaves all of us in pretty good health. Aunt Mary had Mams, Daisy, Alice and me to dinner yesterday – (Sunday) and believe me we had some time and some dinner.

“Bob” leaves for Chi this p.m. Uncle is a little better tho very weak. The club is planning a dance for next Tuesday P.M. the 10th.- Hope you can be here for it, but. If you can’t I’ll try and not cry. Ho! Ho!

Are you staying at Mrs. Walker’s altogether now? I’ll ask you the other questions when I see you, I’d better not write it…

Mershell “Shell” Graham

I wonder if you want me to meet you? Or if you will come on by the house – guess that will be better for us to meet at house after not having seen each other for so long. What you say? Write me one more letter before leaving- for I guess this is the last one I’ll write before we meet.

With lots of love etc.

Your Fanny
P. S. Give my love to all the folks.

This card was enclosed with the letter

After reading my grandmother’s letter and the invitation, I wondered about several things. Where was Washington Park? How did they manage music in a park? How did they get to the park when it was quite a ways from their neighborhood? What kind of dancing did they do? And most importantly- did my grandfather make it from Detroit to Montgomery before the dance?

I found the answers to all of my questions. Unfortunately there was no mention of the dance in any of the newspapers.


In 1886, the first citywide system of streetcars was established in the United States in Montgomery, Alabama. Segregated seating was officially mandated in the early 1900s. There was a Montgomery streetcar boycott from 1900 to 1902 to protest segregated service. The boycott failed and the city council passed the Montgomery Streetcar Act in 1906 that codified segregated seating.

The Montgomery Advertiser
Montgomery, Alabama • Thu, Oct 16, 1902 Page 3

In 1903 the Montgomery Street Railroad Company got permission and land to build a park for African Americans in West Montgomery. Parks were also segregated. Black people were not allowed in white parks. Washington Park was not within walking distance from the Centennial neighborhood so the streetcars heading to the park were often crowded. In fact, there were letters to the paper complaining because there was not room on these cars for white people. There were also excursion cars for special events that ran from some where in the neighborhood to the park. I don’t know if there were enough people going to the dance to call for excursion streetcars or if the dance goers had to ride the regular segregated buses.

The Montgomery Advertiser 1904 May 26 page 6

The section below from a Sanford shows the buildings available at the park. I wondered about dancing on the grass and what music would be provided, but there was a dance hall. There was probably a piano there or maybe they had a local band. Would there have been a gramaphone? A player piano?

Washington Park and facilities

I found in the newspapers that the dances popular at this time in Montgomery were the foxtrot, the one-step and the waltz. And, most importantly, my grandfather did arrive in time for the dance! They spelled his name “Michael” instead of “Mershell” but he arrived the day before the dance and in plenty of time for his wedding.

The Emancipator
Montgomery, Alabama · Saturday, June 14, 1919
Thunderstorms were predicted. I hope they didn’t impact the dance.

12 thoughts on “A Dance in Washington Park

  1. Thanks for visiting my blog on the road trip (I am thinking…). I just read this post and am so intrigued. I’ll be reading your A-Z entries today, perfect Mother’s Day reading.

    1. I don’t know what kinds of dances I expected my grandparents to be doing, but I had not thought of one-step and fox trot. I was glad to find some videos.

  2. Is the last event of the club you know of?
    It seems a shame that it was not reported in the newspapers. I found that with my family there seem to be some people who are more connected to the gossip columnists – I wonder if that connection had moved on by the time of the dance.
    I enjoyed the video of the dancing.

  3. I think that my grandmother Fannie might have been the one reporting the Edelweiss events to The Emancipator. She was married on June 15, five days after the dance and immediately left for Detroit. The paper only came out once a week so, if she was the link, she probably was too busy to get around to it. Unfortunate for me. The club didn’t meet during the summer and no more meetings were reported the following fall.

  4. I’m impressed how detalied your lodal papers are, and whish that my danish ones were the same. I also hope the dance was not ruined by the weather … but would this not be noted in the paper?

      1. Still I see them running to the dance hall, and being soaked on their way there – I mostly “think” in scenarios, and the result here is not so nice. Maybe time to think some gallant gents with umbrellas into my scenario.

        1. I think in pictures too. Because it was a rainy day and the dance wasn’t until evening, everyone had an umbrella. Because they often walked, everybody had a good sized umbrella. The women also wore their workday shoes and carried their dancing shoes so as to avoid getting them wet. There was a cloak room inside the dance hall where people could leave their coats, cloaks, shoes and umbrellas.

  5. I’m so glad you have written this, on what looks to have been the final event of the club. It seems to make it clear that your grandmother was the mover and shaker of the Edelweiss Club. I bet her friends missed her and hope that at least a few of them also moved up to Detroit. So your grandparents-to-be were already courting and that dance was almost a run-up to their wedding? Love seeing the photos of the two of them.

    1. Yes they were. My grandfather was in Detroit by February 1917. They exchanged letters and in November, 1918 he asked my grandmother to marry him and she accepted. You can read the proposal here https://findingeliza.com/archives/176

      Ten of the Edelweiss members moved to Detroit, including my grandmother and her sister. I know that some of them did keep in touch.

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