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The Archivist: Bare tummies spark high-profile uproar over 1942 city dance hall

Mary Phillips: In 1942, Commissioner of Charities and Corrections Mabel Bassett sparked a battle over bare tummies at a dance hall.
BY MARY PHILLIPS Published: March 25, 2013
/articleid/3770840/1/pictures/1991312">Photo - Mabel Bassett is pictured in a photo from The Oklahoman archives.
Mabel Bassett is pictured in a photo from The Oklahoman archives.

This particular waitress, a charming 18-year-old blond, wore a polka-dot halter with a full back in it. It was tied in front with one of the ends drooping down, thus hiding at least one square inch of skin.

Her jagged skirt, a la Daisy Mae fashion, ended just below her knees, in a much less intriguing manner than the scanties worn in the comic strips by the real Daisy Mae.

Thus the score stood Tuesday night: Two rounds, no decision, eight tummies still bare.

Gragg has had several brushes with officials. An old hand in the entertainment business, he usually adopts a conciliatory attitude. But Tuesday he just wanted to ask more questions of Mrs. Bassett.

What, he asked, is Mrs. Bassett going to do with housewives who wear midriffs downtown this summer? And how about girls at swimming pools and women who wear two-piece evening dresses?”

This wasn't the end of the story. On May 22, 1944, The Oklahoman reported a Chicago trade magazine, “Institutional,” had picked up the story of the bare midriffs and ran the photo of a Daisy Mae waitress in her “uniform.” The only problem was they identified the waitress as “Mabel Bassett of the Daisy Mae tavern in Oklahoma City fashions the very latest in Dogpatch style.”

Bassett was out of town and apparently chose not to make a public comment when she returned.

“Why the idea,” giggled Elsie D. Hand, assistant commissioner, “of Mabel Bassett going around showing half of her stomach. That's the funniest thing I ever heard of.”

Mabel Bassett was elected and served as the state commissioner of charities and corrections for 24 years. She oversaw the operations of the state schools for boys and girls, orphanages and the state penitentiary. If a child was orphaned or abandoned, she would often pick up the child herself, or if a prisoner had a complaint, he or she would come to her. She was also recognized early in her career for being the first woman patrolman in the state at Sapulpa. The state correctional facility in McLoud is named for her.

The Daisy Mae lasted until late 1947 when Chuck's Billiards took over the location and arrests began to rise for illegal gambling and bookies.

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