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ice cream social

A gathering where people mingle and visit and a fee is typically collected to pay for the ice cream served and to support an advertised cause.

There will be an ice cream social at the Congregational church this evening. Everybody invited. – Kingsbury County Independent, August 1896

In all versions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl manuscript, on the night Almanzo proposes, he and Laura have attended an “Aid Society ice-cream social at the church, but it was stupid and [they] left early,” going home the long way around the slough. It is said to be buggy-riding weather and shortly after the singing school they attended in De Smet, and at some point after the 4th of July celebration they also attended. As they were engaged prior to Almanzo and Royal leaving town in the fall of 1884 (the De Smet Leader for November 22 reported them progressing towards New Orleans), is it possible to track down the ice cream social they may have attended?

An ice cream social was typically a fund-raising event. There was no ice cream parlor in De Smet from which to purchase ice cream until July 1885 when a Mr. Jones opened one. Prior to that time, local ladies would purchase ice from one of the hotel dining rooms and use their own ice cream churns to make ice cream in small batches from custard prepared with their own milk, cream, eggs, and sugar. Dishes of ice cream may have cost a dime. Remember Laura Ingalls and Mary Power attending the dime sociable in Little Town on the Prairie, where they were treated to a dish of custard and a piece of cake, and conversation with couples their parents’ age? In addition to a social hour or dancing and music, sociables may have involved a collection to help fund a specific cause or event, such as a church bell, organ for a schoolhouse, or a gift to a minister or teacher.

It turns out that in the early years, De Smet citizens frequently held festivals or gatherings where ice cream was served. It wasn’t until 1896 that the newspaper reported a sociable held in the (Congregational) church and sponsored by the Ladies Aid Society, though, two years after the Wilders had moved to Missouri! Unless the gathering Laura remembered was fictional or not reported in the newspapers (and all 1884 issues of the De Smet Leader were archived), she may have been recalling one of the following gatherings:

The festival given by the Ladies Aid societies on Wednesday evening was a very pleasant affair and a financial success. The strawberries and ice cream were unlimited in quantity and excellent in quality. The attendance was large, though there were but few from out of town, owing to insufficient publication. All present enjoyed a good time, and the receipts were $57.65, the net profits being $34.75. — De Smet Leader, July 14, 1883.

A strawberry and ice cream festival will be given at the band hall nest Wednesday evening, under the auspices of the Masonic lodge. A general invitation is extended. — De Smet Leader, June 7, 1884.

One of the most enjoyable times of the season was had at the Masonic ice cream and strawberry festival at the band hall last Wednesday evening. The attendance was large, 153 supper tickets being sold. Everything passed off pleasantly, and all seemed to be having a good time.The ice cream and strawberries were a treat, being the first of the season. The band furnished music. After the exercises were finished the boys procured an orchestra and those desirous danced for a couple of hours. — De Smet Leader, June 14, 1884.

The festival Thursday night at the depot was a grand success not withstanding the disturbance of the elements just before dark. Miss Ella DeLano was voted the picture-frame and declared the most popular young lady present. Ice cream, strawberries and cake, washed down with lemonade were among the principal festivities of the evening. Net receipts, $14. — De Smet Leader, July 12, 1884.

The ladies of the M.E. church will give an ice cream festival next Thursday evening in Peirson and Cooley’s new building. The proceeds will be applied on the pastor’s salary. All are cordially invited. — De Smet Leader, September 6, 1884.

The ice cream festival given by the ladies of the M.E. church Thursday evening was a complete success. The ice cream and cake were excellent, and a very social time was had. — De Smet Leader, September 13, 1884.

A necktie social at the Depot next Wednesday night. A nice time is anticipated. — De Smet Leader, September 27, 1884. [For a necktie social, the girls attending each made a man’s necktie and woman’s apron or bow out of matching fabric; the bow was typically tied on a picnic basket, which the woman prepared. Upon arrival, participating men picked a necktie, not knowing who had fashioned it. He and the woman who made it then shared her picnic dinner together.]

The Methodist ladies gave an ice cream and strawberry festival last evening. — De Smet Leader, June 20, 1885. / The ice cream and strawberry festival given by the ladies of the M.E. Church last week was a decided success. The cream and berries were excellent, and every body seemed to enjoy themselves. The nest proceeds were about $20. — De Smet Leader, June 27, 1885.

On Wednesday evening a social will held in the band hall. Music furnished by the Cornet Band and Choral Union. The ladies of the Baptist Church will furnish ice cream to all who desire it. — De Smet Leader, July 18, 1885. / The ice cream social at the rink, given in the interests of the Baptist church, Wednesday night, was a complete success, both socially and financially. The services were opened with “America,” by the choral union, and prayer by Rev. Otis. Then followed short speeches, or more properly speaking, “a few remarks,” by Messrs. J.A. Owen, Rev. J.T. Otis, A. Thomas, J.B. Hall and F.W. Hynes, interspersed with music by the choral union and band. The speeches were for the most part encouragement to the teachers present. Then came the ice-cream and a general good time. The rink was well filled with people, and all seemed to be having a good time. The proceeds were about $27. — De Smet Leader, July 25, 1885. [Note: This was held in connection with the week-long teachers’ institute that was being held in De Smet. Although Laura had taught school the previous spring, she was no longer in school or planning to teach again; she and Almanzo were married two weeks after the social.]



Is it possible to find the date of the ice cream social based on singing school dates? Most likely, Laura and Almanzo attended the spring 1884 session conducted by Edwin A. Forbush. A March 1884 newspaper reports that it was growing in attendance weekly. So this isn’t much help, as the social was also said to be after the 4th of July.

If Laura and Almanzo did attend one of the ice cream socials described above, one final bit of info to consider is that the story didn’t make it into published These Happy Golden Years or its existing manuscripts. It is only mentioned in Pioneer Girl.


ice cream / ice-cream (FB 12, 28), see ice cream
     ice cream social (PG)