Monday, August 27, 2012

The "Basket Social"

Every year for the past 11 years, the Harbor History Museum's annual "Basket Social" fundraiser provides much needed funds to help run the museum. But, what exactly is a basket social?

Basket Socials, sometimes referred to as Box Socials, have a long history in providing an opportunity for men and women to spend time together. The socials also provided a way for communities to raise money for the church, grange, school, or other need.

Many times these events would lead to long-term courtships and eventually marriage.  Other times, it was just a way to spend an evening in the company of the opposite sex.

One of the early references to a basket social occurred in Dunkirk, New York's paper, the Evening Observer, on February 19, 1885. The article described something "new":  Each lady in attendance is to bring a basket containing a lunch for two. By lottery the baskets, and their fair owners as company to the feast, are disposed of to the gentlemen. This is a new departure in our social line and I trust will meet with success. Let there be a full house. All are cordially invited to attend.

An earlier reference to the basket social was found in the Rocky Mountain News, on December 6, 1882, and was phrased similar to the Dunkirk, New York, piece quoted above.

More recently, perhaps when you were younger you remember your grandparents or great-grandparents talking about how much fun they had at a box or basket social. Believe it or not, these socials were quite popular into the mid 1970s -- and even into the 1990s, sparking a recent resurgence in the practice.

Young readers would have learned about the box/basket social from reading the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Or, did you happen to see either the play or the movie Oklahoma? The second act is set at a box social. Or, how about the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, where Loretta Lynn’s pie is up for bidding?

In America, the tradition was that the women decorated a box or basket and filled it with a lunch or dinner for two. The men then bid on the women’s baskets in anticipation of eating alongside the person that prepared the basket. Sometimes the contents were just a cake, pie, cookies, or other homemade dessert.

So, where did it start? In Victorian England, the middle class young people had few avenues to socialize and meet new people, especially those of the opposite sex. A solution emerged of “box socials” held at various people’s houses, organized by the parents, where young people could mix freely.

The Harbor History Museum in Gig Harbor has been celebrating the “spirit” of Basket Socials for the past decade with its annual fundraiser dinner/auction. In this case, the “baskets” are part of the Silent Auction, and can be filled with goodies, get-a-ways, toys, or whatever the donor provides. The Basket Social also features dinner, a signature cocktail, Golden Ticket drawing, dessert dash, and Live Auction, with special items ranging from travel to fine dining to unique Gig Harbor experiences. Proceeds from the Basket Social still go to a great cause – the museum – just like in the old days. This year’s Basket Social theme is “History Rocks” and pays tribute to the 1980s. Paul Skansi, 1980 Seattle Seahawks Alumni, serves as Honorary Chair.

The annual fundraiser will be held on September 22 at Tacoma Narrows Airport Aviation Hangar, Gig Harbor, Washington, beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets are still available – visit to learn more about this fun evening or call 253-858-6722 x2. Please join us for a blast from the past at the Harbor History Museum’s 11th Annual “History Rocks” Basket Social.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

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