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One example of this impression management comes from a 1938 article in where a Smith College senior advised incoming freshmen on how to cultivate an "image of popularity." She wrote, "During your first term, get home talent to ply you with letters, telegrams and invitations.College men will think, ." She also suggested that you get your mom back home to send you flowers from time to time, again, to give the impression of popularity.After World War II the norms within the dating system began to change.By the late 1940s and early 1950s demographic realities began to sink in: There was a shortage of men.Men's popularity needed outward material signs: automobile, clothing, fraternity membership, money, etc.Women's popularity depended on building and maintaining a reputation of popularity: be seen with popular men in the "right" places, turn down requests for dates made at the last minute and cultivate the impression that you are greatly in demand.Part 1: A Brief History of Dating and Courtship in America Let's turn our attention now to "dating" and the "date" itself. How did it become such an important part of our courtship system? According to cultural historian Beth Bailey, the word was probably originally used as a lower-class slang word for booking an appointment with a prostitute.However, by the turn of the 20th century we find the word being used to describe lower-class men and women going out socially to public dances, parties and other meeting places, primarily in urban centers where women had to share small apartments and did not have spacious front parlors in their homes to which to invite men to call.
[I]n earlier days going steady had been more like the old-fashioned 'keeping steady company.' It was a step along the path to marriage, even if many steady couples parted company before they reached the altar.The article went on to say that if, for some reason, you did not have a date on a particular night, you should keep the lights off in your dorm room so no one would know you were home.Beth Bailey comments, "Popularity was clearly the key — and popularity defined in a very specific way.You had to rate in order to date, to date in order to rate.By successfully maintaining this cycle, you became popular. So, that is the system in place prior to World War II.
If the average age of first marriages was dropping (around age 18 for women and 20 for men) then the preparation for marriage — the shopping around, if you will — had to begin much earlier than that.