Monday, Dec. 6, 1937: Singing in the bathtub

Posted on May 25th, 2006 – 6:38 PM
By Ben Welter
Marjorie Burns

Marjorie Burns, a young reporter for the Minneapolis Star in the late 1930s, developed an interesting beat. She tried out scores of occupations – clown, lion tamer, stewardess, farmer, ballerina — and wrote about them. Her first-person accounts were engaging, funny and often insightful. She also covered society news, interviewed movie stars and occasionally wrote about fishing.

Burns left the paper in 1940 to marry John Shanard, later a Cargill executive, and moved to Washington, D.C. She went on to play leadership roles in state Republican politics, helped plan a Republican state convention and headed former Laker George Mikan’s congressional campaign. She died earlier this month at age 92. The little feature story below caught my eye while I browsed a roll of 1937 microfilm after reading her obituary.

Women Singing in Bathtub

By MARJORIE BURNS
Staff Writer for The Star

If you are a woman and you sing in the bathtub you are making someone unhappy.

And if you don’t sing in the bathtub, you yourself must be unhappy.

So starting with the premise that you can’t win either way, we’ll progress from there.

First, singing in the bathtub is supposedly not only the right but also the duty and desire of every cheery individual. So it is taken for granted that women, being equally as good-natured as men, would like to sing in the bathtub.

But do they sing in the bathtub?

That all depends on their regard for the comfort of others, it seems.

* * *

This little bather from about 1935, identified in the archived caption as the “Nascher baby,” looks like she had plenty to sing about. (Photo courtesy of mnhs.org)

In the words of Abe Pepinsky, professor of music at the University of Minnesota:

“Because of the high frequency of a woman’s voice in a bathroom it resounds with a sensation of pain.”

The whole controversy was started by Sir James Jeans, the astronomer, in his new book, “Science and Music.” He refers to singing in the bathroom as a “peculiarly male pleasure.”

In other words, the high reflecting walls in the bathroom make the oral harmony in a man’s voice pleasing, whereas the oral harmony in a woman’s voice would be beyond the audible range.

What you do hear is unpleasant.

* * *

In a confined space like a bathroom, notes below middle C will reflect several feet, go echoing round and resound in all their richness. This is not true of higher tones which have too short a wave length.

So women, if you feel a song coming on, get out in the wide open spaces and let it go. For there you have just as good a chance as the men.

But whether it sounds so well or not, women everywhere are standing on their rights and exercising the feminine prerogative to sing in the bath if they want to.

* * *

Now take the Kappa Alpha Thetas at the University of Minnesota. On an upper floor of their house, far from complaining masculine ears, they lustily whoop up “Feet Are Too Big” day after day as they scrub.

And the Alpha Gamma Deltas likewise sing in the tub. “You Can’t Stop Me from Dreaming” is the favorite.

The Gamma Phis cannot be budged from their claim that they don’t sing while bathing. All of which proves either they aren’t happy or they’re too considerate to force the “sensation of pain” upon others.

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