Fred Hutchinson James Delmage Ross Dixy Lee Ray George W. Bush Hazel Wolf Henry M Jackson Warren G. Magnuson Home
Search Encyclopedia
Advanced Search
Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search
7068 essays now available      
Donation system not supported by Safari     Donate Subscribe


Cyberpedias Cyberpedias
Timeline Essays Timeline Essays
People's Histories People's Histories

Selected Collections
Cities & Towns Cities & Towns
County Thumbnails Counties
Biographies Biographies
Interactive Cybertours Interactive Cybertours
Slide Shows Slideshows
Public Ports Public Ports
Audio & Video Audio & Video

Research Shortcuts

Map Searches
Alphabetical Search
Timeline Date Search
Topic Search


Book of the Fortnight
Audio/Video Enhanced
History Bookshelf
Klondike Gold Rush Database
Duvall Newspaper Index
Wellington Scrapbook

More History

Washington FAQs
Washington Milestones
Honor Rolls
Columbia Basin
Walla Walla
Roads & Rails

Timeline Library

< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

Bellingham City Council prohibits dance marathons on January 26, 1931. Essay 5601 : Printer-Friendly Format

On January 26, 1931, Bellingham City Council passes Ordinance No. 5204 prohibiting “continuous performance,” i.e. dance marathons. A dance marathon being staged concurrently at the State Street Auditorium prompts the Council's emergency measure. Dance marathons (often called Walkathons) are human endurance contests in which couples dance almost non-stop for hundreds of hours (as long as a month or two), competing for prize money.

Dance marathons were spectator events and performative endurance contests. Audiences paid 10 cents to 25 cents to watch contestants shuffle, sleep on their feet, dance, and entertain 24 hours a day. Contestants could rest 12 minutes out of every hour, and were fed 12 times each day. They were subjected to elimination events that grew increasingly sadistic as the marathon wore on.

Post No. 1585 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars hosted the State Street Auditorium walkathon as a fundraiser. Within a week, the Bellingham City Council was hammering out details of an emergency ordinance designed to stop the contest and prohibit such events from occurring in Bellingham in the future.

The contests drew audiences of Depression-era jobless fans with little money but a great deal of time to fill, but polite society tended to frown upon them. In Bellingham, as in many other cities where dance marathons were staged, citizens objected on religious, moral, health, and public safety grounds. Churches and women's groups objected on moral grounds (the contestants' full-body hugging dance positions as they dragged one another around the floor for hours were a far cry from social dance positions) and for humanitarian reasons (the rigors of a dance endurance contest were felt to degrade the human spirit and morals of the contestants, and by extension of the community). Police officers felt that the marathons attracted a criminal element to their towns, or at the very least that marathon promoters were only interested in short-term gain at the expense of the community.

The City Council voted unanimously to pass the ordinance. The Bellingham Evening Herald reported, “The vote on the ordinance was called for by Mayor John A. Kellogg only after several bitter debates on the matter, in which a crowd of 250 citizens that jammed the council chambers clearly demonstrated that they were in sympathy with the present walkathon” (January 20, 1931).

Will J. Griswold, the attorney representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars, charged that the movie theater owners, not the general public, were the force behind the demand to ban dance marathons. The State Street contest, he conjectured, was “getting their gravy” in other words siphoning off their profits. “Councilman E.C. Harshman stated that as a member of the police committee he had visited the contest and what he had seen had convinced him that the city did not want this type of entertainment” (Bellingham Evening Herald, January 20, 1931).

The ordinance prohibited continuous performances within the city limits and declared an emergency. It required, in part, that future contests “close to all participants and all other persons at twelve o’clock midnight and remain closed until after seven o’clock A.M. of each and every day of its operation.”

Violating ordinance No. 5204 was punishable by a fine of up to $300, ninety days in jail, or both.

In declaring a public emergency the ordinance stated: “the health and physical welfare of untrained youths is being jeopardized under the guise and use of the words ‘endurance’ and ‘stamina.’”

Carol Martin, Dance Marathons: Performing American Culture In The 1920s and 1930s (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994); Frank Calabria, Dance of the Sleepwalkers: The Dance Marathon Fad (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993); Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1935); June Havoc, Marathon ’33 (New York: Dramatists Play Service Inc, 1969); June Havoc, Early Havoc (London: Hutchinson & Co, 1960); Anita O’Day with George Eells, High Times, Hard Times (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981); Richard S. Kaplan, “An Appeal To Reason,” The Billboard, June 29, 1935, p. 31; Richard P. Kaplan, “Are Walkathons Lawful?” Ibid., February 2, 1935, p.26; Leo A. Seltzer, “What Future -- Walkathons?” Ibid., December 29, 1934, p. 220; “City of Bellingham, Washington, Ordinance No. 5204, "An Ordinance Prohibiting Continuous Performances, Amusements or Contests Of A Public Nature Within the Limits of the City of Bellingham...,” January 28, 1931; “City Dads Table Dance Ordinance,” Bellingham Evening Herald, January 9, 1931, p.8; “Anti-Walkathon Ordinance Gets Unanimous Vote,” Bellingham Evening Herald, January 20, 1931, p. 1; “Anti-Walkathon Bill Is Passed,” Bellingham Evening Herald, January 27, 1931, p. 2.

Travel through time (chronological order):
< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

Special Suite: Dance Marathons |

Related Topics: Society | Law |

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You

This essay made possible by:
Humanities Washington

Dance Marathon contestants, ca. 1925
Courtesy Library of Congress

Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search is the first online encyclopedia of local and state history created expressly for the Internet. (SM) is a free public and educational resource produced by History Ink, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt corporation.
Contact us by phone at 206.447.8140, by mail at Historylink, 1411 4th Ave. Suite 803, Seattle WA 98101 or email