On 09 November 1921, a taffy pulling party was held in a small Nebraska town. The Decatur Herald reported, “A number of young folks were present and [a] real jovial evening was spent” at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Thoma. Hosting this event, I suspect, was their eldest daughter, fourteen-year-old Fern Thoma, who was in ninth grade at the local school. Taffy pulls became popular in the nineteenth century and involved boiling up a sugary mixture that was then pulled, folded, and pulled again by teams of individuals with well-buttered hands, the end result being a quantity of candy to share and eat. As a social event, taffy pulls were particularly popular among mixed groups of young women and young men.
Fern, the daughter of a local merchant, was by all accounts a social girl; the newspaper shared several accounts of her activities as a young teenager before her family left Decatur in March 1922. During her eighth grade year, in February 1921, the Decatur Herald had noted, “Fern Thoma, Ina Lambert, Maxine Choyce, Elizabeth Akins, Gladys Gilson and Eleanor Darling gave a party at the home of Fern Thoma on Friday night. There were 28 boys and girls present, and the evening was spent in games.” Perhaps this party included Fern’s entire class; while only seventeen youth are pictured in her ninth grade class photograph, her eighth grade class may have been larger. As an eighth-grader, as shared in the Decatur Herald, Fern also participated in a Junior Audubon Society with the role of reporter.
Outside of school, Fern, along with several of her aforementioned girlfriends, were piano students of local teacher Mrs. E. A. Sears. In April 1919, when Fern was in sixth grade, the Decatur Herald shared: “The younger pupils of Mrs. E. A. Sears will give a program at the home of Mrs. E. A. Hanson’s on Tuesday evening, April 22nd, at 8 o’clock, for the benefit of the organ fund of the Episcopal Church. Everyone cordially invited to attend, and bring a silver offering. Those taking part in the program, are the Misses Maxine Choyce, Rachael Hanson, Ina Lambert, Helen Farrens, Edith Skalovsky, Agnes Busse, Eleanor Darling, Fern Thoma, and Evelyn French; Masters Albert Bysse and Gerald Eagleton. Come and hear the ‘Bell Symphony’ and see the ‘Fairy Queen.'” Later that year, Fern was one of two girls who performed “beautiful solos” at a Decoration Day event.
As a ninth grader, Fern played the Valse-Arabesque by Theodore Lack at a musical program for the “older students” of Mrs. E. A. Sears, which, again, included a number of her girlfriends. It is not known if Fern continued with her musical instruction after her family left Decatur for another small Nebraska town; in any case, while she was not known to be musical as an adult, playing popular songs on the piano would have been a lively way for her to entertain friends as a teenager—when her hands were not covered in sticky taffy, of course!
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