Sepia Saturday 391: Eighth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.
When I discovered that my grandmother’s Uncle John Stoutner won a first prize for waltz at an 1895 company picnic, I assumed he was participating in a once-in-a-lifetime event — a lighthearted, informal competition among colleagues to liven up a summer gathering.
But it turns out Uncle John was serious about his dancing.
Because four years later — on Sept. 27, 1899 — the Gloverville Daily Leader announced the upcoming launch of Professor John Stoutner’s school of dance in Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.
Of course Uncle John was not literally a professor. However, Miriam-Webster’s dictionary says a professor can be “one that teaches or professes special knowledge of an art, sport or occupation requiring skill.”
Imparting his skill
So Uncle John, as a dance instructor, was imparting his special knowledge and skill — complete with an honorific that added a feather to his cap as professional milliner.
Apparently, social dancing was tremendously popular at the turn of the century, because another news article said Uncle John’s first class (held 118 years ago this month) drew 80 dance students.
In fact, turnout was so good that Uncle John had to change venues for the remainder of the season from Gloversville’s Music Hall to the larger Mills Hall — where his second class was attended by 300 dancers and their friends!
A social and masquerade party
Nor was this the first extravaganza Uncle John had organized. Among inherited family papers, I found a formal invitation to a Private Masquerade Party held on Monday, Feb. 14, 1898 at the Gloversville armory.
Printed at the bottom are the names of the Masquerade Party Committee: J.H. Stoutner, L.H. Rinefort and W.J. Nelson.
Tucked in with this announcement was a hand-drawn invitation inviting Miss Celia Mimm, my maternal great-grandmother, to attend another event Uncle John may have had a hand in — an E. L. Social held earlier the same month on Feb. 4, 1898.
Celia, then 21, eventually became Uncle John’s sister-in-law when she married his younger brother — my maternal great-grandfather Andrew J. “Pete” Stoutner.
Although I have no pictures of him teaching or waltzing or emceeing an event, I was nevertheless thrilled to discover this social dance history of my maternal grandmother’s Uncle John.
Throughout my adult life, I have been a regular social dancer — favoring swing and Latin dance styles.
My mother — a talented pianist, singer, composer and arranger — was a career music educator before she retired.
My maternal grandmother Liz apparently danced socially — because I still see all the moves she taught me during my teens whenever someone breaks into the Charleston swing.
Now it turns out that long before all of us there was Uncle John H. Stoutner — winning waltz contests, leading dance classes, booking halls and orchestras, and contributing his dramatic dancer’s dip to our family’s musical heritage!
Up next: My maternal grandmother develops her own signature style. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.