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    Encountering the early custom of “courting in bed”

    Have you heard of the practice of “bundling?”

    I hadn’t either until recently when I was going through a stack of books at an auction. When I came across a thin paperback with the title “Little Known Facts about Bundling in the New World,” I had to pause and look it over.

    On the cover beneath the title was the image of two young people in bed and a couple standing over them, along with an explanation:

    “The Old-Fashioned Center-Board”

    “The Pennsylvania Germans invented all kinds of ways and means to get the courting couples together – and all kinds of knickknacks to keep them apart when they got together! Girls were safer in the old days, in bed with their beaux, than they are today roaming the world over in search of adventure!”

    An illustration from A. Monroe Aurand's book shows a bundled couple - without the centerboard.

    An illustration from A. Monroe Aurand Jr.’s book shows a bundled couple – without the centerboard.

    The book was dated 1938 (when women were prevented from being so adventurous) and written by A. Monroe Aurand Jr. This was his fifth title on the subject of bundling, and he would go on to write another one.

    A Harrisburg, PA, resident, he wrote more than 25 booklets about the Amish, all self-published, starting in 1928. His research was said to be uneven and was called “fakelore.” It did, however, give some idea of how people saw the Amish, according to the 2001 book “The Amish in the American Imagination.”

    His accounts of Amish life were not the only ones, according to the book, noting that stories about bundling among the Amish were common. An Esquire piece from 1937 was rife with sexually charged stories about the people who practiced it, according to the book.

    In his book, Aurand used Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary to define bundling: “To occupy the same bed without undressing; said of a man and woman, especially during courtship.” The practice has been given various names: bundling, tarrying, questing, courting in bed, sparkin’ and splitting the bed.

    The man and woman were supposed to lie down in bed all night talking – no hanky-panky, although Aurand noted that some may have gone on.

    The cover of A. Monroe Aurand's book on bundling.

    The cover of A. Monroe Aurand Jr.’s book on bundling.

    “… isn’t a virgin girl, or an honest one at least, better off at home in bed with her lover – with all the temptation that may befall – than in the barn, or woods, or park, or miles away in an auto?” he wrote.

    Aurand’s book offers an historical account of the origin of bundling, where it was still being practiced in 1938, the moral questions surrounding it, how it was used and why, along with stories reportedly from real people who had engaged in it.

    He noted that bundling had been done in countries around the world, and was brought to the United States in the colonies. When he wrote his book, he said that in many places it was no longer practiced, except among some of the Pennsylvania Germans or Amish.

    Bundling was important in households looking to get daughters married off or for another simple reason: to keep warm in drafty old homes with large fireplaces. It was a way to save on firewood, he said, citing that reason as “more an excuse than a necessity.”

    “It is nothing new to most of us – we know that two persons can keep warm in bed easier than one,” he also wrote.

    An illustration from A. Monroe Aurand's book shows a so-called "professional bundler."

    An illustration from A. Monroe Aurand Jr.’s book shows a so-called “professional bundler, ” at left.

    It was not just confined to men and women looking for love. Others engaged in it, too: “army officers traveling from place to place, the good old peddler, and the traveling salesman; the minister and the doctor had the privilege, if they cared to exercise it; candidates for office could expect to be ‘invited’ to join the family, or the daughter ‘in bed,’ if they had no fear as to some of the constituency raising objections as to ‘morals.'”

    Early on in his book, he questioned whether women were unfairly tainted by agreeing to bundling while men were not.

    “It would seem to the author, and it ought to be rationally clear to the reader, too, that man is not so superior over woman that he might have the right to lie with her, or bundle with her, if he got a chance, and yet, at the same time, declare it to be immoral for the girl to accept of his company? Can bundling be both right and wrong at one and the same time?” he wrote.

    Bundling came with accoutrements to help ensure that the couple remained separate. Wooden centerboards that stretched from headboard to footboard down the center of the bed were used to prevent touching. Long pillows were used in the same way, along with bundling bags tied around both the young man and woman so that only their heads were exposed.

    A page from the A. Monroe Aurand book on bundling identifies a woman's undergarments on the clothesline.

    A page from the A. Monroe Aurand Jr.’s book on bundling identifies a woman’s undergarments on the clothesline.

    Aurand told the story of a young man who was staying the night with a family and was surprised when the daughter came into the room to share the bed.

    “They were separated by a single sheet, plus the night-clothing they wore. During the conversation, we recalled to him that sometimes centerboards were used to keep the lovers apart, and he again remembered that the bed in which he slept on the night in question, had a recessed place, head and foot ends, reasons for which he had inquired from her.

    “The young lady told him that formerly her people erected a barrier which consisted of a wide board, running the full length of the bed, over which, she told, none ventured far, except in fear of being beaten up by members of the family who would respond at the least sign of trouble. ‘Honest men and women can lay quiet all the night!’ He said that all he did that night was talk until about two o’clock, when he dropped off to sleep.”

     

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