At the turn of the 20th century, people couldn’t keep blogs about their dating adventures. They could, however, keep chap records. To modern ears, the phrase “chap records” sounds like a clumsy reference to a child’s first chapter book. But the phrase was a bit different. Young women used chap records, which were mostly blank notebooks, to keep track of the men, the “chaps”, that they dated.
The first chap record was designed by Adda Sproul Reading and was published by Frederick A. Stokes Co, New York in 1898. Though it is easy to wonder what sorts of information young women in put in these records, we don’t simply have to imagine it; the Harvey Country Historical Museum in Newton, Kansas has a chap record that was once owned by Juliette Roff, and its contents are fascinating.
Newton resident Juliette Roff was 17 years old when she received the chap record in 1905. As the only child of Dr. Ocran W. and Alice Paine Roff, Juliette was well-educated and was a member of her high school’s basketball team. She also had a candid eye when contemplating the bachelors in her life.
She wrote several entries about the various “chaps” in Newton, and I’ve highlighted a few interesting ones.
— — —
Name: Howard Randall
Date: Known him all my life
Name: Zandy Novir
Opinion: Tat can have him
Name: Mr. Chilihe
Opinion: All right just so you don’t have to dance with him
— — —
Juliette continued to fill out her chap record throughout her time first at Bethel College and later at the University of Kansas. In the end, she didn’t marry “handsomest” Howard Randall, but instead married Walter Reese, the director of the Kansas State Bank, when she was 41 years old. She remained in Newton until she died.
Through her chap records, Juliette’s spark lives on. Books like these provide glimpses into the mental worlds of young women in the early 1900’s. It can be easy to forget that figures from history are not always so different from their contemporary peers. The records also might provide some inspiration for anyone writing historical fiction. History is often just as interesting as invented stories after all.
All images from the Harvey County Historical Museum, Newton, Kansas, 3 December 2015, http://hchm.org/as-long-as-you-dont-dance-with-him-the-chap-record/.