How to throw a Radium Party (1912)

In the Book of Parties and Pastimes, published in 1912 and written by two women – Mary Dawson and Emma Paddock Telford – we are given an example of “A Radium Party” which, we are told, is the way that a “New York entertainer of moderate means” held a similar party recently and had been written up in a magazine called “Designer”. The Book features over 90 party ideas and tips for the hostess. For the Radium Party Dawson recommends a number of ‘absurdities’ as a way of catching the attention of the guests and giving food for thought.

As per the introduction to this party, it is quite clear that this is done on a budget and the properties of radium are referenced in very simple ways. For example Dawson suggests the guests should wait in the parlour and while they do there is a darkened closet open in that room with ‘a pebble or chip of wood (coated with phosphorous to impart an eerie glow) was exhibited as “1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 of an ounce of the true Radium discovered by Professor and Madame Curie.”

Other suggestions include illuminated signs, made by pin perforations on cardboard with candles placed behind) and a game of making words from the word radium. The main suggestions are how to introduce the motif of the party into the supper – so she has a centrepiece of ribbons and flowers to simulate rays radiating from the centrepiece, sandwiches wrapped in iridescent paper foil and lots of silver dishes and cutlery.

As far as possible only silver was used on the table, and whenever china dishes appeared they were hidden by silver paper fringed at the edge. At each corner of the table were huge silver balls, such as form ornaments for Christmas trees, and these reflected dazzlingly bright lights of the table and its setting. Candles were used for lighting and were held in silver candlesticks, which rested on sheets of tinfoil crumpled up to look like silver rocks. The name cards were written in silver ink, as were also the invitations to the festivity.

Towards the end of the repast, a bowl filled with colored popcorn was passed among the guests. This course was accompanied by a silver ladle. Each guest was invited to dip out a ladleful of the popcorn and try to discover the bit of hidden radium, which proved to be a “wee jewelry box wrapped in gold paper and containing a pretty stick pin.”

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