Republican women in Connecticut enjoy a good old-fashioned bacchanal in 1941.
Republican women in Connecticut enjoy a good old-fashioned bacchanal in 1941.Nina Leen—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Republican women in Connecticut enjoy a good old-fashioned bacchanal in 1941.
LIFE made a point of noting that during poker Joan Thornwaite (left) "chewed her cigar fitfully" and "failed to get sick."
The evening had the potential to get genuinely wild, with LIFE reporting that "spiked punch is dished out to the [night's performers] and local reporters." Alas, "no one got tight."
Young Women's Republican Club of Milford, Conn., 1941.
Performers scheduled for later in the evening savor their corncob pipes in a dressing room. LIFE noted the corncobs would likely be a one-time enjoyment: "It wouldn't do in Milford."
Perhaps the most provocative part of the evening involved that perennial staple (in myth, if not in fact) of male get-togethers: the strip tease. It began with "peeling inconsequential garments" after which the ladies reemerged "in kimonos."
LIFE described the "Hefty Ballet" as "a choreographic burlesque devised by a local instructor." No explanation was given as to why the women imagined that men at a smoker customarily enjoy a bit of ballet with their booze, cigars and strippers.
LIFE deemed the tap dance executed by Miss Connie Mohr the "best act technically in show."
Between numbers, tap dancer Mohr gets a light from "elocutionist" Kathryn Keller. LIFE characterized the encounter thus: "Butt meets butt on backstage stairs."
Before the women could stage a comic wrestling match, they had to get into costume -- an affair that included women stuffing themselves "full of muscles." LIFE urged readers not to overlook the "phony bush of pectoral hair."
Properly attired for their wrestling match, it is time to begin. This photograph captures the moment that the "[g]rapplers come to grips."
LIFE on the battle: "Huffing and puffing, they punish the mat." Joan Thornwaite (back to camera) "won by tickling in five minutes." Note: Her opponent's mustache is attached to her face with chewing gum.
One man was allowed to attend the smoker; you can see him here on the floor, with both women standing on him as they "beat their chests in triumph."
As the game went into the night, the ash trays overflowed and the air got positively "blue." Reasoning that "if men can take it, so can we," the women continued.
Dawn found the hall filled only with litter: "Porters agreed they hadn't seen so many butts since [the] State Firemen's Convention in 1938." And where were the men? LIFE reports they were "flabbergasted" by the smoker and many "spent the evening playing bingo with abstainers and Democrats at another hall nearby."
Republican women in Connecticut enjoy a good old-fashioned bacchanal in 1941.
Nina Leen—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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Partying Politics: LIFE Goes to a Republican Women's Bacchanal

Nov 20, 2014

"On the evening of May 20," begins an article in the June 16, 1941, issue of LIFE magazine, "members of the Young Women's Republican Club of Milford, Conn., explored the pleasures of tobacco, poker, the strip tease and such other masculine enjoyments as had frequently cost them the evening companionship of husbands, sons and brothers."

Thus the storied weekly and photographer Nina Leen chronicled the shenanigans that erupted when a group of GOP women got together for an old-fashioned "smoker" (noun: an informal social gathering for men only) on one long, memorable night in southern New England.

[See more from LIFE]

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