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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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PUBLIC DANCE HALL. In 1905 the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, under the title "The Evil of the Dance Hall," an editorial.

          In view of the existence of the dance hall evil in
          Dubuque, an evil which is not abated or restricted as it 
          should be, the following editorial from the Kansas City
          Journal...should suggest the need to local police and
          charity workers, of a strict guardianship of the dance          
              ...That there are some well conducted public 
              dance hall there is little doubt, but it is
              equally true that a majority of these resorts
              are breeding places for the worst character of
              vice. A police officer of experience said,"Next
              to wine rooms, I regard the public dance hall
              to be the very worst kind of place for young
              girls; I have known of many young girls who
              can trace their downfall to these places."
              Most of these dance halls are located in the
              vicinity of places were the dancers can get
              drinks. Young men and girls drink whiskey and
              beer between dances, and it is no uncommon
              sight to see couples and parties reeling away
              from certain halls late at night in a maudlin
              condition. The police should close up all the
              disreputable public dance halls. They are easy
              to find, and so are the saloons that break the
              law in selling liquor to this class of patron. (1)

In 1906 Alderman Joseph Needham of the Second Ward opened his independent campaign for the office of mayor. Citing his knowledge of alleged graft conditions in the city government and a champion of reform, he outlined a ten point platform. Listed as #8 was "Saturday night public dance halls where wine or liquor is sold shall close, and be under police control. (2)

"Evils of the street walking" led to a crusade in November. Young women under age who were found in town after 11:00 p.m. without their parents were taken into custody by the police. The importance of keeping their children off the streets was echoed by Archbishop Keane who supported the police action and referred to the dance halls as "agencies of public corruption. (3) One local officer was quoted:

              They talk about the saloons; why, there's more harm
              wrought in one of those dance halls in a single night-
              more young girls started on the erring way--than is
              accomplished by all the saloons in the state of Iowa
              in a month. (4)

Mayor Berg was returned to office, but the campaign had an effect. In February, 1906 an angry mother removed his minor daughter from a public dance. In response, Mayor Berg reminded parents that his orders to police officers were not to allow any minors to public dance halls unless properly chaperoned. "I have gone down to the public dance halls myself and ...have seen that officers send away girls I thought too young to be there." He added that it was the duty of parents to guard their children and know "the whereabouts of their children, especially after nightfall." (5)

Dubuque's pioneer female physician Dr. Nancy HILL echoed Mayor Berg's statement the following month. Stating, "Every Christian woman over eighteen years of age in Dubuque is, in a measure, responsible for the condition of things which prevail here at the present time," Dr. Hill noted:

               I believe if each woman of Dubuque would awake to a
               realization of there individual responsibility in
               regard to the girls who come within the direct
               influence of her home and life, seeing that she has
               a comfortable room and is treated like a human being,
               capable of understanding and feeling, capable of
               being a congenial companion, more girls will remain
               within the safe influence of private homes and not
               seek the streets or public dance halls for companion-
               ship and amusement. (6)

M. Weber, a revivalist who had toured the nation for years, visited Dubuque in 1907. In an interview, he remarked the public dance halls were as much responsible for the present increase in crime as were the saloons. He was working to gain public cooperation to abolish them. (7)

It is unknown what effect it had locally, but on November 30, 1910 the Methodist Episcopal Church was urged to take action. Among the concerns to address at the sessions of the Methodist Federation were public dance halls, Sunday Baseball games, moving picture shows, pool, billiards and cards. (8)

Dubuque was not alone in being concerned about public dance halls. Following closely behind Des Moines, Council Bluffs officials outlawed the "moonlight dance," "turkey trot," "grizzly bear," and "bunny hug" especially in the public dance halls which were under police regulation. As in Dubuque, police officers were assigned duty in the halls. (9)

An ordinance for the regulation of public dances and the licensing and regulation of public dance halls was passed on July 17, 1913. By definition, "public dance" or "public hall" meant any activity or place where an admission was charged. It was illegal to hold or dance or hold dance classes without first obtaining a license. If the dance floor did not exceed 2,500 square feet the annual fee was $15.00. If the dance floor space ranged from 2,500-5,000 square feet the fee was $20.00 with $25.00 charged if the floor space was in excess of 5,000 square feet. No license would be issued before it was determined that the hall conformed to all health and fire regulations. The license could be cancelled by the mayor alone or the city council for any improper or suggestive conduct. If cancelled, the license could not be reinstated before six months had passed. The ordinance would not interfere with private parties or dances given by recognized societies, clubs or corporations where attendance was restricted. (10)

In 1916 there were ten dance halls in Dubuque which paid for the license. To catch those operating illegally and to determine whether health regulations were being followed, inspections by the police were begun on December 28, 1916. (11)

In 1916 the Germania Stock Company asked to be exempted from paying the customary fee of $15.00 because their dance hall was not a paying proposition. Representatives of the company claimed there were so many dance halls in Dubuque that they seldom could rent GERMANIA HALL and that only private dances were given there. When the city council learned that several dance halls were refusing to pay for their license until the Germania company request was decided, the council voted unanimously that a license to operate was needed. (12)

In 1919 Archbishop Keane clarified his position on dancing. He was not opposed to dancing--at invitational dances where responsible chaperones were present. However, according to the archbishop, dance halls were "nothing more than vice dens where any youth of girl needs ten or fifteen cents and they are allowed to dance until all hours of the night. At the annual retreat for bishops, Archbishop Keane commented,"I don's see how men and women who operate cheap dance halls can receive the sacraments of the church." He did, however, leave it up to the individual priests to decide their course of action. (13)

Managers of dance halls throughout Dubuque County had to obtain a license from their township trustee before opening for business. Under a new section of the Code of 1924, the granting of the license was discretionary, would cover a period of time not less than six months or more than one year. (14) This effectively ended the practice of those who wanted to dance on Sunday, not allowed in Dubuque, to go into the county.

The advent of the GREAT DEPRESSION and the dismal news brought an end to much of the concern about dance halls which opened all over the nation. People danced to the music of bands and orchestras often while "a glittering, rotating, multifaceted ball cast diamonds of light on the floor and the dancers." (15) The largest ballroom in Iowa opened on June 26, 1923 in UNION PARK. Center Grove's CRYSTAL BALLROOM charged gentlemen fifty cents and ladies twenty-five cents to dance to big bands. Zwingle offered the Playmore Pavilion. While barn dances featuring such groups as Rita and the Ramblers of Ted and the Mississippi Sellers grew in popularity, nothing could eventually compare to the opening of MELODY MILL. It was there that the dance hall came out of the shadows of the past to be a place where people could be entertained by such legendary entertainment as Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.



1. "The Evil of the Dance Hall," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 18, 1905, p. 4

2. "City Hall Graft Was Under Fire," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, March 6, 1906, p. 6

3. "Archbishop Keane and Liquor Traffic," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 5, 1906, p. 10

4. "Officer Scores Dance Halls," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, October 13, 1908, p. 23

5. "Mayor Warns Dubuque Parents," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, February 22, 1906, p. 3

6. "Veteran Woman Physician Talks," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, March 25, 1906, p. 10

7. "The City in Brief," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, May 24, 1907, p. 2

8. "Urged to Take Action," The Telegraph-Herald, December 1, 1910, p. 16

9. "Turkey Trot and "Moonlight Barred," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, February 3, 1912, p. 11

10. "Official Publication," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, July 19, 1913, p. 16

11. "Chief to Enforce Dance Ordinance," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, December 28, 1916, p. 10

12. "All Dance Halls Must Pay Taxes," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, December 20, 1916, p. 12

13. "Archbishop Hits Die Dance Halls," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, June 23, 1919, p. 10

14. "New Regulation for Dance Halls," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 2, 1924, p. 16

15. Hellert, Susan, "Dancin' Days," Telegraph Herald, March 15, 2005, p. 1