We do the greatest good possible to womankind. We are patriotic, and our object is to assist the men of our country to make this great nation even greater. Don’t you see? Don’t you understand? How better may a woman serve her country?1
How better indeed than birthing at least one new baby every year — the stated aim of the Bonnie Cripple Club of Rockville Centre, Long Island. The lovely ladies of this society met in 1910 and decided that the salvation of the human race rested on their shoulders. Humanity would face “race suicide” unless the Bonnie Cripple Club could produce a baby each and every year, a goal that would seem to get easier and easier as more members joined. But the Bonnie Cripple Club couldn’t have just any old babies — they had to have “eugenic babies”2. The society’s child for 1913 even won the “Better Baby” contest, and you can’t say fairer than that.
The seven women of the Bonnie Cripple Club, however, kept their noble goals a secret. Behind their cryptic monicker, borrowed from a Scottish charity for crippled children, the society hid their intentions and pretended to be an ordinary social club. Mrs Walter Johnson, Mrs Edward Temme3, Mrs Frederick Marquardt, Mrs Elmer Raab, Mrs James Hatlach, Mrs John Ferrer, and Mrs Louis Carr met once a week for tea and sandwiches, but in reality threshed out the weighty issues of the day such as homeschooling youngsters and the fate of future generations.
The beans, however, got spilled. In January 1914 the newspapers caught a whiff of these women’s work and thereafter refused to leave them alone. Over the coming months it came out that the society held an annual progeny parade to show off their eugenic youngsters, and it was even alleged that the club’s real name was the Society for the Promotion of Perennial Parentage of Improved Progeny4.
By late February the club was on the skids. The waves of publicity led them to rename themselves something a little more innocuous, the Centre Social Club. But the worst came when Mr Marquardt read about his wife’s shenanigans in the paper and bribed her to the tune of \$100 to quit the society. Eventually she consented, claiming she was already the mother of six children and had another on the way — her obligation to mankind had clearly been paid.5
The club continued to brave stormy weather. The New York Tribune refers to an incident in June which threatened to destroy the club’s harmony, but which by October had been smoothed over. Now the Bonnie Cripple Club began to issue statements upon every conceivable topic. They claimed it was better to patronize unmarried doctors for fear of making their wives jealous. They also discussed “twilight sleep” and decided to enroll widows and unmarried women as honorary members.6 The club issued a statement against the use of dictagraphs (or, as they are better known today, bugs and wire-taps). “Unless something is done these dictagraphs will be secreted in coat pockets, where they can record all the conversation of the day for the entertainment of the family the evening meal… Such a condition of affairs would cause men to long to hurl themselves into the midst of the European conflict.”7
But alas, the days of eugenic babies are long past. Time, like all cruel mistresses, turned against the Bonnie Cripple Club. By the end of November the club was no more. “It all happened because those horrid New York newspapers found out about it. Besides, you know, that wasn’t the real honest-to-goodness name of the club. It should have been the Centre Social club. But it’s gone now, thank heaven!”8 The story began to emerge that the whole thing had been a massive newspaper fabrication from the start. The ladies of the club had fallen victim to one Sam Fisk, a local newspaperman who got wind of the club via Edward Temme, former police captain and husband to one of the ladies. “Why, it’s a fairy tale,” exclaimed Mrs Marquardt. “That Sam Fisk! Wait till I see him!… Why, he made \$50 out of that story about us. Bonny Cripple Club! The very idea!”9
The Bonny Cripple Club finally fell silent as their secretive reporter, presumably Fisk, began to report the other goings-on in Rockville Centre, though this time he “does not permit himself the luxury of a brilliant imagination — at space rates.”10 The Bonnie Cripple Club had been together for four years, but after their activities hit the headlines they failed to survive another one. Thus died the last great American institution.
“‘One Baby A Year’”. ↩
“‘One-Baby-A-Year Club”. ↩
The name is variously given as Edwin/Edward Pemme, Temme, Tempe, or Teme. I confirmed the correct name by consulting the 1910 Census. ↩
“‘One-Baby-A-Year Club’”. ↩
“A Bonny Cripple Retires from Fold”. ↩
“One Baby A Year Pledge Renewed”. ↩
“Hats Off To Them”. ↩
“Bonny Cripple Club Disbands”. ↩
“‘One Baby A Year’ Club Killed”. ↩
“Bonny Cripple Club Disbands”. ↩
- “A Bonny Cripple Retires from Fold”. The Nassau Post 20 February 1914, 1. Print.
- Eyck, Carlton Ten. “Bonny Cripple Club Disbands Following Horrid Publicity”. The Mansfield Shield 30 November 1914, 8. Print.
- “Hats Off To Them”. Frederick News Post 3 November 1914, 4. Print.
- “‘One-Baby-A-Year Club’ Gives Progeny Parade to Show Accomplishments”. The Milwaukee Journal 4 February 1914, 8. Print.
- “‘One Baby A Year’ Club Killed By Publicity”. The San Francisco Chronicle 22 November 1914, 44. Print.
- “‘One Baby A Year’ Is Pledge of Clubwomen to Aid Mankind”. The Washington Post 31 January 1914, 4. Print.
- “One Baby A Year Pledge Renewed”. The New York Tribune 30 October 1914, 12. Print.
- “Race Suicide, Never! Say Bonnie Cripples”. The Nassau Post 6 February 1914, 3. Print.
- “Women Respond to Society’s Pledge”. The New York Times 30 January 1914, 18. Print.